Poetic, lyrical, haunting.
Dancing on Knives
Random House Australia Pty Ltd
A damaged family and their generations of dangerous secrets At twenty, Sara is tormented by terror so profound she hasn’t left her home in five years. Like the mermaid in the fairytale her Spanish grandmother once told her, Sara imagines she is dancing on knives. She feels suffocated by her family, especially her father – the famous artist Augusto Sanchez – whose volcanic passions dominate their lives. Then one stormy night, her father does not come home. His body is found dangling from a cliff face. Astonishingly, he is still alive, but the mystery of his fall can only be solved by the revelation of long-held family secrets. At once a suspenseful murder mystery and a lyrical love story, Dancing on Knives is about how family can constrict and liberate us, how art can be both joyous and destructive, and how strength can be found in the unlikeliest places.
This is my first foray into the writing of acclaimed author Kate Forsyth and I am pleased that I had no expectations other than this being an interesting read. I was intrigued by the introduction, the gruesome retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid where the mermaid agrees to have her tongue cut out in exchange for a human form so she can court the prince she loves and though she will have legs in place of a tail she will forever feel like she is dancing on knives; what a gruesome yet intriguing story and one that perfectly describes the terrors that afflict and restrict the life of the protagonist, Sara.
I really enjoyed the lush description of food, family and art; the good times, juxtaposed against the anxiety that Sara feels under the rule of her domineering and selfish father, Augusto – his bad times suffocate the entire family in a lead shroud. There are characters aplenty for all to love or hate, characters that are largely sympathetic with the male centric times when this piece was originally written (by the then sixteen year old Kate). Kate Forsyth certainly knows how to set scenes and to create memorable characters.
However whilst I enjoyed many aspects of the writing per se I felt that the conclusion was a little rushed and simplistic and echoed of the old fashioned romances I read as a teenager (and they were dated then), the descriptions of Sara’s first sexual experience – a story of blood and semen that discloses to her partner her previous virginal state ….so melodramatic and 60’s, our protagonist “rescued” by her sexual awakening …..was just a little over the top for me and spoilt what had been an interesting story but perhaps this ending is more a reflection of the sensibilities surrounding the time of Kate’s childhood? An interesting read.