Reviewed by Simon Thomas
In the first issue of Shiny New Books we had a lovely piece by Angela Young about the genesis of her novel The Dance of Love. We were thus teased and in suspense for some months before the novel was actually published by Buried River Press – but published it now is, and it’s a wonderfully engaging and moving novel of love, duty, misunderstandings, and reconciliations. Saying that it is in the same vein as Pride and Prejudice may seem like praise too far – and, of course, that is the archetype and we cannot expect others to live up to it – but lovers of Austen will find much to admire here.
The Dance of Love is a historical novel, set around the start of the 20th century, and concerns the young Natalie Edwardes (the extra ‘e’ added to lend class to their name), daughter of a successful businessman in the nouveau riche mould – as she is reminded in the opening pages by her friend Millie. More than that, though, Natalie is in the Elizabeth Bennett mould. She is passionate, impulsive, and not governed by the expectations of society.
She is, though, governed by the expectations of her father. He is deeply kind and adoring (and, indeed, adorable), a little uncertain of his station, but keen to set his daughter on the ‘right’ path. And so he helps a marriage that will benefit Natalie, while offering money to a distressed gentry family in danger of losing their beloved ancestral home. The spanner in the works, of course, is that Natalie has fallen in love with the soldier/painter Lieutenant Haffie…
Her equilibrium restored, Natalie remounted Artemis and rode slowly into the clearing, hoping to see the otter. And then her heart began to beat quickly for, ahead of her in Hero’s Pool, so called for a young man who saved a young woman from drowning there, stood the pale figure of a man. A naked man. He stood with his back to her, the water rising to his waist, and when he shook his head drops of water sprayed out. Natalie dared not move. She watched the man scoop handfuls of water and throw them over himself. And then he too became very still, as if he sensed the presence of another being.
If that sounds like the prototype for a historical romance, then I suppose I have to concede that The Dance of Love is, indeed, a historical romance. But that conjures up a different type of novel entirely. There are no heaving bosoms, still less ripped bodices. The moment of Haffie’s introduction is probably the most oh-gracious-me incident in the book, and their would-be romance is primarily a meeting of minds. It is still a romance, with all the guilty-pleasure-fun-reading that inevitably entails, but nothing is tawdry or frivolous.
Being set in the early 20th century, it is inevitable that the war should appear on the scene. It seems impossible to write anything new about the war, but Young sensibly keeps it in the background. Its effects are momentous on the main characters, including Natalie (who helps run a hospital in her home), but we are not taken to the Somme or even London.
The other historical incident with great impact, as readers of that piece for Issue 1 will know, is the sinking of the Titanic. Again, the narrative never moves on board – but certain characters were there, and this has its consequences. Rather than taking the reader to the heart of the period’s tragedies, Young shows the much more common story of the time: people affected from a distance. Young is so good at writing about the minutiae of human experience – whether that be joy, sorrow, or a confusing combination of the two – that it would feel almost grotesque to place all that in the high-drama of trench or sinking ship; far better to show it in the emotional scars elsewhere.
Although the titles are similar, this is a very different novel from Speaking of Love, Young’s first published novel, and serves a very different purpose. Speaking of Love looked at mental illness, broken families, and the powers of storytelling. The Dance of Love – although it incorporates heartbreak and loss – feels more unashamedly charming, pleasurable, and indulgent as a novel. The main thing they have in common is Angela Young’s exceptional storytelling talent. She has a way with words which pulls the reader through at a rate of knots, whether the reader is laughing or crying, and – with two such different novels under her belt – I’m intrigued to see what the third will be like.
Simon is one of the Shiny New Books editors, and can now add ‘historical romance’ to the list of genre-prejudices he has successfully overcome for SNB.
Angela Young, The Dance of Love (Buried River Press, London, 2014) 978-1910208038, paperback, 320pp.