Wednesday, April 11, 2012

book review: Dance Lessons by Aine Greaney

The backstory: Dance Lessons was shortlisted for the 2012 Indie Lit Awards. It was our runner-up.

The basics: After her husband Fintan dies in a sailing accident on Martha's Vineyard, Boston prep school teacher Ellen travels to the village in Ireland where Fintan was raised to uncover why he claimed to be an orphan.

My thoughts: Based on the cover and title, I expected this novel to be about Irish escapism. I assumed a woman would go on holiday and meet a Viking-esque man who gave dance lessons. The reality of this novel is quite different, and I hope its second place finish in the Indie Lit Awards will compel more readers to take a look at what this novel really is. Ultimately, it's a novel about love, family, and the what it means to be home.

While I would stop short of describing this novel as a mystery, it is a knowledge journey as Ellen yearns to understand her husband better and examine the state of their marriage at the time of his death. Much of this novel's joy is seeing its events unravel slowly. I was grateful to know nothing about its plot when I began to read. I will say, while Ellen's journey was not unexpected, her discoveries did surprise me. This story had a depth of emotion, painful and joyful, and Ellen's journey is far from a romantic vacation.  As the novel progresses, other characters begin to narrate as well, and this change provided more insight into Fintan's history, but I was always most engaged when Ellen was front and center in this novel.

The verdict: Dance Lessons is a beautiful exploration of the ties that bind us together, be it legally, emotionally, or by blood. Ellen's journey was a fascinating one, and I enjoyed experiencing the village of Gowna through her eyes as she encounters intriguing characters and uncovers Fintan's history.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 261 pages
Publication date: March 30, 2011 
Source: publisher via NetGalley

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Dance Lessons from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

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16 comments:

  1. I do like the sound of this one missed it as a NG pick.

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    1. Diane--I picked it up on NG far too long ago because I tend to trust fiction from university presses, but I didn't actually read it until the Indie Lit Awards. It's worth a read.

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  2. I think this was a surprising addition to the short list for a lot of people. I know I'd only heard little about it, but it definitely sounds worth it. I will keep this one in mind.

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    1. Jenny--it was a surprising addition, and that's what I love about award lists (and the Indie Lit Awards in particular). It warms my heart to see this novel beat The Night Circus--one everyone expected and knows!

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  3. I read this book last year and loved it! I was surprised by how complex the characters were. Even when you hated them, you could see where they were coming from.

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    1. Anna--you articulate exactly what I love about great fiction: love or hate, you understand where characters (and by extent people) are coming from. I'm glad you enjoyed this one too!

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  4. I am not familiar with this book at all. It sounds touching though.

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    1. Lola--I would agree it's touching, but it's certainly not gentle. It was a surprising read in many ways, but I'm so glad I experienced it!

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  5. I remember when the nominations came in for this one and no one had ever heard of it before. To be honest, it didn't sound all that great to me but a few trusted bloggers said really good things about it so it doesn't surprise me that it was the runner-up for Fiction. I don't know how far and wide the awards go but maybe this book will get a bit more recognition from them.

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    1. Ti--if I hadn't stumbled on it in NetGalley, I wouldn't have heard of it either. I do hope more discover it through the awards!

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  6. I read another review of this book in the last couple of days, and it sounds like it would be one that I would enjoy. The premise does make it seem a lot lighter than it actually was, and this also intrigues me. I will be on the lookout for this book. Thanks for the great review!

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    1. Zibilee--I do think you'd like it. There's a gentleness to it, but it is also somewhat dark. It's an intriguing combination!

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  7. I was so glad that this book turned out to be nothing like an escapism book! I greatly enjoyed our discussions on this title.

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    1. Me too! It was such a surprising read in many ways.

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  8. I read this last year and LOVED it - it is nice to see it getting some attention now via ILA. I hope Aine writes another novel soon.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!