Sunday, January 22, 2012

Review: Dance Lessons by Aine Greaney

How well can you ever know someone? How well can you especially know someone who intentionally keeps the past a secret, lying and hiding the truth? And what do you do once that person is gone and the truth comes out?

Ellen's Irish husband, Fintan, always maintained that he was an orphan but after his accidental death, Ellen runs into an old acquaintance who knew him back in Ireland and finds out that he lied to her for years. His mother is in fact alive. As Ellen struggles with her feelings about Fintan's unexpected death, their troubled marriage, and his obvious desire to close her out of his past, she decides that she should go to Ireland uncertain of her own reasons for making a pilgrimage that Fintan obviously would not have wanted or approved.

Once in Ireland, she meets Fintan's crotchety mother and discovers that there was quite a lot she never knew about her husband, much of which explains their fraught and unhappy marriage. Jo Dowd, Ellen's mother-in-law, is an unhappy, tough-as-nails farm woman who mostly keeps to herself. In fact, she doesn't even want a home nurse despite the fact that she has terminal cancer. But despite having only just met Ellen, she is willing to have her daughter-in-law move in and care for her.

As Ellen comes to know Jo and the others in the village, and to hear of more of Fintan's buried past, she comes to learn about forgiveness, how to move forward, how the future can hinge on the smallest of actions and past secrets. As she uncovers the bitter past, the hurts, and the betrayals, her finds sometimes makes the narrative bleed with despair, anger, and hopelessness. Told from the perspectives of multiple narrators and using interspersed flashbacks, there are multiple plot threads weaving through the book that at first seem unconnected but which come to create a complete tapestry by the end of the novel. The writing itself is very visceral and the characters' emotions, while spare seeming actually strike deeply but the over all feeling of the novel is one of hurt, wrongs, resentment, and regret. It has a desolate and anguished tone and even the faintly hopeful ending couldn't change that.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.


  1. Wow, this seems like a good but depressing book. I'll put it on my list. Thanks for the review.

  2. Hi Kristen, Thanks for taking the time to read and review my book, DANCE LESSONS. You give me and my readers great food for thought. At a book club meeting (in CA--so across the country via Skype), the readers wanted to know who, in my real life, the book's characters were based on. I was glad to say, "no one person," though the "resentment, regret and hurt" that you write about speak to some small part of most families--at least the ones I've known.

    Thanks again for your careful and detailed read and review.
    Aine Greaney, author,

  3. This was one of my favorite books of 2011 and I am glad to see it has been nominated for an Indie Lit Award. I agree with you about the "desolate and anguished tone" - very well said!


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