05/01/2008

Echoes of the Dance (by Marcia Willett)

On the whole, I like Marcia Willett's books. I've been reading them for about ten years now, and find them relaxing and enjoyable. Her characters are believable, her plots gentle, and her endings satisfactory. Recently I've found one or two of her novels a bit annoying with too much backtracking; interrupting the narrative by leaping forward and then showing what happened in the meantime with a conversation or memory. I've also thought that some of them were rather long-winded.

But her 'Chadwick trilogy' was very moving, and two of her more recent novels ('A week in Winter' and 'Children's hour') were excellent, so I've continued putting her books on my wishlist.

'Echoes of the Dance' features Daisy, a young and promising dancer who has suffered an injury and may never dance professionally again. One of her teachers and mentors, Mim, has a guest cottage in Cornwall, with her brother Roly next-door. Mim suggests that Rosie spend a few days there to have a break from the busyness and stress of London.

There are several strands to this story. Rosie falls in love with a man in London, who seems to have separated from his wife, but is unwilling to make any kind of commitment. Roly's ex-wife Monica is feeling bored; their son Nat has an unusual relationship with a bohemian girl called Janna, and can't really talk to either of them. Roly thinks he's in love with an old friend called Kate, who was recently widowed, and is nursing a long-kept secret. Kate is considering selling her house, and perhaps adopting a new dog, but finds it hard to make decisions after the death of her husband.

Then there are Kate's grown-up children, the twins Guy and Giles, who featured in some of Marcia Willett's earlier books. They are now married with families of their own, and although I don't remember much of what happened to them it felt reassuring to meet old friends, and catch up on one or two plotlines that I'd wondered about. The book does stand alone - it's by no means necessary to have read any of the earlier ones with these characters - but I quite like the continuity.

The various subplots and threads weave mainly around the Cornwall countryside, with Rosie - who tends to be outspoken and totally honest - being the catalyst for some unravelling of secrets, although she needs considerable help as she comes to terms with her own future.

There were places in the book where a scene was only replayed in retrospect, but it didn't happen too often, and seemed to work better than in some of the other books by Marcia Willett. On the whole it was very well-written and interesting, although occasionally I had forgotten who someone was by the time I picked up the book after 24 hours.

The characters didn't come alive in the way that - say - Rosamunde Pilcher's do, but the story was warm and occasionally moving, and worked towards a satisfying conclusion with one or two surprises along the way.

Recommended as a warm, light character-driven read.

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