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
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