Dance with me (by Victoria Clayton)

I had not heard of Victoria Clayton until a friend recommended her books to me, knowing my tastes in general. None of her books seem to be in print now, but I put some on my wishlist and received a couple of them which I read earlier in the year, and very much enjoyed. So I decided to order a few more myself, from the Amazon Marketplace, and have just finished reading her third novel.

‘Dance with Me’ is narrated by a young woman called Viola Otway. She feels herself to be undereducated after quite a privileged upbringing, but wants to earn her own living. She’s taken a job with a charitable group in London that renovates old houses, and lives in shared accommodation with some rather caricatured but interesting people. The novel is set in the 1960s, although that’s not immediately obvious.

Viola has been romantically involved with her boss Pierce, but as the story opens he’s instructed her to travel with his colleague Giles to a stately home called Inksip Plark, in Nottinghamshire. She and Giles don’t really get along; he considers her rather flighty and prone to accidents; she finds him a bit too serious. Things don’t improve when they break down on their way to Inksip, and arrive to discover that the family are eccentric, and the food appalling, due to a series of terrible cooks.

It’s really a character-based novel, with a large cast of intriguing people, mostly rather exaggerated, and not all memorable; I sometimes forgot who the minor characters were, although it didn’t matter too much, and the main ones were easy enough to distinguish. There’s some mild humour in the interactions, and in Viola’s accident prone nature, but there are also some serious issues that are touched upon: unexpected pregnancies, class consciousness, post-natal depression, unrequited love, and more. There’s even a survivor from Auschwitz.

It’s light reading on the whole, despite these darker themes. Victoria Clayton has a very readable style, peppered with literary (and, in this book, artistic) allusions, and while I didn’t quite believe in several of the characters, I found myself liking Viola very much. She’s willing to learn, and she has a warm heart.

The 1960s are remembered for their permissiveness; I was too young to be aware of that kind of thing at the time, but it’s certainly reflected in this book, where discussion of intimacies and affairs seems commonplace, both amongst the younger people and several of the older ones. I found parts of that a bit sordid, even shocking in places; some of the pairings seemed unnecessary to the story-line. While I enjoyed the book, there were elements that made it start to feel like a soap rather than a novel.

More than one reference is made, in this novel, to characters who appeared in ‘Past Mischief’, the author’s second book. Viola knows some of them, and while it’s not necessary to have read the previous book, it helps to understand some of the comments in context.

The ending, as with the author’s earlier books, is a bit abrupt, albeit not unexpected, and entirely satisfying.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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