Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day)'s Reviews > Dance Lessons

Dance Lessons by Áine Greaney
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Jul 15, 12

bookshelves: 2012, fiction, source-own, f-literary, source-review, format-tree, personal-library
Read from February 19 to 26, 2012

Ellen's husband, Fintan, had just recently passed away, when she meets an old acquaintance from the past - someone who knew both Ellen and Fintan. In that one meeting, Ellen learns some new facts about her husband - such as the news that his mother is actually alive and kicking, and that Fintan was not an orphan as he had let her to believe. This discovery bothers Ellen enough to make her visit Gowna in Ireland and find out what caused Fintan to lie about his mother.

I have to say - when I first came across Dance Lessons (through the many nominations it received for the Indie Lit Awards, I wasn't intrigued at all. The cover, the title and the synopsis all repelled me, but knowing that it came from an independent press, a part of me thought there must be something else to this book that wasn't standing out at first glance. Once I finished it, I could see the merit in this book - it surprised me a lot (and the panel members, I should add) - in fact, I kept going between this and Silver Sparrow, when trying to decide the book I would rate first.

Here's the story I made up before reading the book (we all do that, right? Pretend we know where a story is going?) Ellen would go to Ireland, meet Fintan's mother, find something shocking, resolve the issues, find a local man, fall in love, and voila! Happy Ending! That isn't what happened. Some of it did, but there were enough non-conventional stuff in the book to allow me to enjoy it.

Ellen and Jo, Fintan's mother, are the main characters of the book, and even Fintan, who is already dead from the beginning, is fleshed out well through flashbacks and back-stories. Initially, I saw Fintan as a controlling man, who didn't much value his wife's opinions. But by the end, I really wanted him to be alive, because by then, a whole new side of him had emerged, one which even Ellen didn't know, and one which puts his character in a different light. Jo was a totally different case. She was an mean, inconsiderate old woman, who did make life difficult for a lot of people. Her relationship with Fintan was interesting and domineering and that set the tone for many things that happen later between them. While it could have been a one-dimensional relationship, I loved how the author took care to introduce Jo's own childhood story into the mix. That certainly put a lot of things into perspective, and left me thinking for a while on Jo's character arc. I won't say I said "A-ha!" because some of the actions confused me, but I guess that's how life is - there is a lot of ambiguity when you start thinking cause-and-effect.

The other characters however didn't feel that vivid, and I guess for me, this is where the book didn't do that well. I wished the narration had moved between a few more characters, rather than just Ellen and Jo, for the most part, because there were some characters who could have brought more to the story (based on their recollections).

This was another fast-paced book. (If there's one thing that all the Indie Lit Awards nominees share, it is their pacing.) There's also a good sense of community in this book, and a very strong feel of Irishness. I love books that evoke the culture of the setting, and I felt that this book definitely succeeded on that point. I also liked that the small-town sentiment wasn't dangled in front of me but rather subtly woven into the plot, so that it was more felt than seen.
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