Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Review: Ballroom by Alice Simpson

My husband dances like he's a teenager at a junior high dance: hands planted firmly on a girl's tush, rocking back and forth on his feet, sometimes to the beat and other times not so much. Before we got married, wanting to ensure that our first dance at the reception wasn't quite so lacking in class, I roped him into attending a dance class or two and I went to more than that myself. In all honesty, it didn't make much of a difference (for either of us) as he still stepped on my feet and I promptly fled to dance with my dad.  But  I've always been impressed with people who do dance beautifully, even if I didn't marry someone who could. So I was intrigued by Alice Simpson's debut novel, Ballroom, about a group of people who all dance at the Ballroom and whose lives cross each other in this very rarified place.

Told through the eyes of six different dancers, this novel tells of their hopes and dreams and the way in which the Ballroom seems, for so many of them, to be the means to achieving their hearts' desires. Harry Korn is a man in his late sixties. He lives alone and occasionally takes on dance students. He has watched Maria grow up just outside his window and when she was small he taught her to dance. Now that she's a young adult, he has plans to marry her and take her to Argentina to compete after she finishes college. Maria doesn't really believe Harry, not that he shares his desire to marry her with her. Despite the fact that she dances competitively and wins with her partner Angel, she still sneaks off to Harry's apartment every Friday for a lesson with the older man and she humors him when he asks her to tell him that she loves him. Sarah Dreyfuss is almost forty, thrice divorced, and she is looking for love at the Ballroom. She's asked Harry to teach her privately so that she can attract the attention of the debonair Gabriel, who only dances with the smoothest dancers. Gabriel dances to escape from his own unhappy marriage but he doesn't share this information with any of the women he dances with. Since he is already married, Sarah has no chance. Joseph, however, wants to get married and have a family even if he's put it off rather late. He thinks that Sarah would be ideal except that when he dances and talks with her, he doesn't really want her; he wants his own idealized version of her.

Each of these people come together at the Ballroom as a place out of time to escape their otherwise circumscribed and small lives. They are, for the most part, sad and lonely people who only have superficial relationships with the other regulars at the Ballroom. Their connections to each other remain on the dance floor where their movements are stylized and prescribed. When they leave the dance and come away from the rush and excitement, they return to their banal wallflower lives, lived on the periphery of everyone else's story. They start the novel as strangers and even though they might learn a bit about the others, they end the novel as strangers too, never having made the connections they so wanted or realized any of the dreams they had. Simpson's descriptive passages are gorgeously visual and paint a vivid picture for the reader but if the physical is very well described, the characters themselves are a bit flat and quite a few of them are unlikable. The chapters are brief and each is narrated by one of the major characters, but because of the characters' superficial relationships to each other, this narrational merry-go-round leads to a lack of cohesion in the overall story itself. The glamorous fantasy of the Ballroom is an illusion, the reality is actually fairly decrepit and tired and this seemed true of the majority of the characters as well. I wanted to love this novel, to have it capture the magic of dance and of life, but it didn't quite get there for me.

For more information about Alice Simpson and the book, check out her website, her Facebook page, or take a look at the book's page on GoodReads. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

1 comment:

  1. Ah yes, wedding dances ... my dad is such a fantastic dancer that I definitely enjoyed dancing more with him at my wedding than with anyone else. Too funny!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!


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