Ian McKinley's Reviews > Dancing with Statues

Dancing with Statues by Caroline Doherty de Novoa
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really liked it

I am a tough critic, I admit. Please place my rating above in the context of the fact that I have only given four 5/5 Star ratings and that I have given 4/5 Star ratings to momentous books such as George Orwell's "Animal Farm" and Hemmingway's "For Whom The Bell Tolls." Dancing With Statues is thus in good company and has a lot going for it.

Dancing With Statues is set in post-Good Friday Accord Northern Ireland. Very often novels set there have the Troubles as its main driving narrative, but Caroline Doherty de Novoa has broken free of those shackles to write a very human story where the conflict in Northern Ireland is only an echo - albeit still a loud one - of a society that is moving forward into a different future. Where the historic conflict, its horrors and its oppression, appears is through the work of one of the two main characters within a truth commission investigating a horrible bombing as well as in flashbacks and discovered memories. This, for me, made for a compelling setting where characters could break from historic stereotypes and tell their own stories.

Now, at this point I must digress; Northern Ireland is my parents' homeland and I lived my first five years there. My intimate knowledge of it is dated as I have not been back since 1996, during the cease fire that followed the horrible Omagh Bombing. I have grown accustomed to "sides" and everyone having been affected by the Troubles in one way or another. The husband of one of my cousins once recounted to me how angry he felt that the man who killed his father had been released as part of the Good Friday Accords and yet he believed that such measures were important for Northern Ireland to be a better place in which his children could grow up.

I saw another review of Dancing With Statues in which the reviewer thought that Caroline Doherty de Novoa had treated the subject of the Troubles glibly. In my ignorance born from a dated understanding, I respectfully disagree. In my opinion, there are only barriers in the mind - "sides," if you will - if we allow those barriers to exist, so she has simply portrayed a society in which those barriers are not as predominant as perhaps they used to be. Likewise, her own narrative voice strikes a tone that is just, balanced, and forward-looking. Ms. Doherty de Novoa thus hasn't treated the Troubles glibly, she has just decided that after more than fifteen years of imperfect coexistence, that her characters can move on to other things than obsessing over structural oppression and violent resistance. I firmly believe that this is the central success of the novel; building a human story out of the pain that defined our homeland while not having that pain define the story itself was wonderfully achieved.

As you may have guessed from the above, I found the central characters credible, well-rounded - flaws and all - full of the complexities that make us human, and guided by believable motivations. My one quibble is that the character of Laura didn't express much interest in Colombia, the homeland of the other main character, Miguel. Of course, a lot can happen "off-camera" as it were, but it might have been interesting to include a bit more of why a lawyer with experience in peace commissions was in Northern Ireland rather than working back home, in another country coming to grips with its violent past and trying to move on to a better future. I recognize that this is a quibble born out of my own interest in the country where I currently live and in subject matter that I deal with on a weekly basis. The story isn't about the conflict in Colombia, just as it isn't about the conflict in Northern Ireland; it's about something else.

Ms. Doherty de Novoa excels at the slow reveal. There is an early hint at the mystery behind Laura's adolescence, an insight that only transforms into meaning within a dozen pages of the end. In the final third of the book, the story takes twists and turns that are unexpected yet not unbelievable. Ms. Doherty de Novoa also resists taking the characters to full clarity. Will the characters put the final pieces of the puzzle together? Will they solve the puzzle that is their own muddled lives? The author takes us to a point where the reader knows more than the characters and the irony of their interaction ignites the imagination of the reader, leaving the reader thinking, pondering, wondering.

Finally, I loved that Colombian character knew more about Van Morrison than the Northern Irish one did! Way to go, Miguel, knowing Into The Mystic! That speaks highly of you!

It was a very good read and I heartily recommend it!

Ian McKinley
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Reading Progress

January 23, 2015 – Started Reading
January 23, 2015 – Shelved
January 27, 2015 –
page 10
3.4% "I feel honoured to have received over the weekend a hard copy of this book dedicated to me from the author. I can't wait to get right into it!"
February 5, 2015 –
page 72
24.49% "I feel honoured to have received over the weekend a hard copy of this book dedicated to me from the author. \n \n So far so VERY good! There are some lovely turns of phrase in this book that I have already discovered:\n \n "A short walk and he'd be home. Well, not home, but at least back through the front door that was opened by the key in his pocket.""
February 8, 2015 –
page 116
39.46% "I'm still very much enjoying this novel. The characters are filling out, growing in complexity, becoming more compelling.\n \n "She seemed to thrive on feeling hard done by, like someone else was living the life she deserved."\n \n Great insight!\n \n The characters are more open-minded about the N. Irish Troubles than in my experience (with my own kin!) Caroline tells me it'll get darker, more complex. Can't wait!"
February 9, 2015 –
page 130
44.22% "I am seeing more and more hints that this gripping story is going in a more sombre direction!"
February 12, 2015 – Finished Reading

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