Too Beautiful to Dance (by Diana Appleyard)

I have no idea when I first heard of Diana Appleyard. Perhaps this book was a recommendation from a friend; perhaps it was simply an Amazon recommendation. I know it sat on my wishlist for quite some time; it’s not currently in print in paperback, so I was delighted to receive a copy - which appeared to be new - for my birthday.

‘Too Beautiful to Dance’ is about Sara, who is approaching fifty as the book begins. Indeed, the story starts with her husband Matt’s 50th birthday party; they have what appears to be the ideal marriage, with two beautiful and loving daughters just emerging from their teens. Matt and Sara are evidently still good friends and enjoy each other’s company.. which makes the unexpected announcement from Matt’s drunken friend all the more shocking.

However the book doesn’t begin with this. Instead it opens with Sara at her cottage in Cornwall, where her good friend Catherine is staying. We quickly learn that Matt had admitted to infidelity and that Sara is, very slowly and painfully, making a new life for herself. Catherine evidently didn’t much like Matt and thought, in retrospect, that they should have split up a long time ago. But Sara was comfortable, contented - on the whole - and saw no reason to doubt her husband.

The book continues using different time frames, zipping between past and present, sometimes missing out quite big chunks of time that were not relevant to the story. It could have been quite confusing: there are no dates given, no real references to pin the different sections onto. But somehow it works. Once or twice I felt a slight sense of dislocation, but context quickly told me where the narrative took place, and what kind of period it was referring to. We see snippets of the apparently happy home life that Matt and Sara shared, but there are also hints of problems; Lottie, the younger daughter, who goes to live witn Sara, felt that her father never really liked her as much as he liked her sister Emily.

As a tale of growing independence for Sara, of discovery of herself as a valid and beautiful person, it works extremely well. The writing is evocative, the people believable. Sara makes a new friend, Helen, who brings some realism and also light-heartedness into the story, and the various young men she meets add some glamour and sparkle, even though more than once I found myself confusing the similar names of Ricky (an attractive surfer in his 30s who works as a waiter) and Nick, who works for an environmental agency.

But there are some rather odd plot threads which jarred with the main, more gentle story. Emily becomes very worried about her father; the tension is built well as Sara waits to find out what the problem might be; but when it’s finally revealed, it is so bizarre as to be unbelievable. Sara decides she must take action, but that too does not seem real; and then it’s never really resolved. The book ends quite abruptly, with no hint as to what the future might hold, or what has happened to Matt’s new love interest.

Overall I enjoyed this book very much. The ending let it down, as did the strange nature of Matt’s problem, but the writing is good and the story as a whole thought-provoking and enjoyable.

Not currently in print in book form, this is available for the Kindle on both sides of the Atlantic, or from Amazon’s Marketplace in paperback.

Recommended, on the whole.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 7th July 2013

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