Title: Dancing on knives
Author: Kate Forsyth
Opening lines: ‘…Sara was afraid of many things …’
Blurb: At twenty, Sara is tormented by an inexplicable 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, unable to speak. 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.
My thoughts: DANCING ON KNIVES was conceived over thirty years ago when a sixteen-year-old Kate Forsyth wrote it in an exercise book – she called it Monk’s Gate. Ten years later she used the same the same novel, rewrote it and renamed it as Sea Changes, for her English Master’s thesis and it went on to be published under her maiden name as Full Fathom Five. Last year she mentioned the book to her publicist and before her coffee had even cooled down Random House had taken up the rights and with a few editing changes has finally been released as DANCING ON KNIVES.
If you are expecting a full on fantasy and fairy tale theme, then you are going to be disappointed. What you are going to get is a mystery, a very good mystery, with twists and turns as you follow a very dysfunctional family trying to stand on their own two feet after their father dies. Sara is the central character; emotionally fragile and traumatised she has not left the house for five years, ever since a particularly nasty bullying experience at school. When she tries to leave the house, or strangers visit, she has severe anxiety attacks. Her mother died in a car crash, her step mother walked out on them after the bullying incident so Sara now keeps house for her three brothers, half-sister and her father, Augusto – an artist and drunken brute who terrorises and neglects his children. The story opens with a huge storm and realising Augusto has not returned home from a painting trip to a nearby cliff lookout. He is eventually found halfway down the cliff just clinging to life and dies of his injuries shortly after. Did he fall or was he pushed? If he were pushed, then which of the multitude of characters in the book, who all had reasons to want to kill him, would have done it?
Sara reads tarot cards, becomes immersed in romance novels and dreams of the ocean – the only place where she truly felt free. Now she wants to be free of her mental incarceration and live a normal life – and there are people to help her immerge – including a budding love interest that stays in the background as is not the main focus. The story of the family switches from the present day to the past as the story is filled in about how Augusto Sanchez rose to the top in the art world, his affairs, his drinking and had he had now plummeted into virtual obscurity. He is not a likable character at all, but so loud and passionate. He has a gypsy background and it was his mother who left Sara the tarot cards and a fixation on the fairy story ‘The Little Mermaid’ which was told to her by her grandmother.
DANCING ON KNIVES is not an edge of the seat thriller; the story slowly builds up with a good three-quarters of the book being the back story leading up to the day of the accident. As the story progresses, more and more likely suspects come to the front, some of them not as fleshed out as well as the main characters and seemed to be making courtesy appearances. However when all is revealed at the end it makes absolute sense. I really enjoyed the story – I like my mysteries to be subtle. There was lots of passion, lots of angst, suspense and great family dynamics amongst the siblings. I certainly enjoyed this departure from Kate Forsyth’s usual fantasy.
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B – Great. I really enjoyed reading it and it is a book I will be recommending to all my friends who like this genre.
With thanks to Random House and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review.