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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.

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Sunday, 3 January 2016

Pleasure and reward

Image result for salley vickers dancing backwardsWhat a very versatile writer Salley Vickers is. After about fifty pages of "Dancing Backwards" I was convinced that this was a 'comic' novel, and in a way it is, but the writer's more serious intent gradually became clear. I suppose that the common denominator in Vickers' books is the quest for personal authenticity - at least that is how they seem to me. But this is very different in style, if not in purpose, from say "Where Three Roads Meet" my favourite of Vickers' fiction so far. Different also from "Instances of the Number 3" which is the one that recurs most frequently to my memory.

Violet, the 'heroine', is a woman of late middle age, still physically attractive we gather but recovering from the recent death of her husband and on a transatlantic voyage to New York to renew acquaintance with an old friend. I'm not sure that Violet is quite plausible - isn't she too intelligent and experienced to be quite so ready to accommodate herself to other people? Still she is decidedly likeable and seems to have a gift for drawing out other people. During the course of the voyage she reflects on the events of her early years which have significantly contributed to her becoming the person she is now, and gradually comes to realise where and why things went wrong. She also takes up dancing which is clearly a metaphor for her self-emancipation. 

The novel is populated with a cast of interesting, if rather two-dimensional, characters who interact in ways to reinforce the message that we must be honest with and about ourselves, and that if we are unhappy we only have ourselves to blame. It put me in mind of "The History of Mr Polly" - if you don't like your life then you can change it! Vickers is clearly erudite but never pretentious. I particularly like Violet's occasional literary references which are generally not picked up by her interlocutors. 

This is an easy and rewarding book to read - it made me smile, and it made me think. No small feat!

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