Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dance me to the end of this book...

Ever since reading Lloyd Jones' wonderful Mister Pip last year, I've been wanting more, more, more. This season we're publishing two of his backlist titles to make them available for the first time in Canada. I've just devoured the first - Here at the End of the World We Learn to Dance, which will be out at the end of this month. And I immediately went out and bought three CDs of Argentinian tangos. We tend to think of reading as a sedentary activity but I defy anyone to get through this lovely novel without putting on some music and giving it a twirl, if only in secret.
Louisa meets and falls in love with Schmidt when both spend several weeks hiding in a cave along the coast of New Zealand, along with two conscientious objectors escaping conscription during the First World War. To fill the time, Schmidt teaches his companions to dance the tango. When Schmidt emigrates to Argentina after the war, Louisa follows him and their poignant love affair continues despite a number of complications, not least of which is Schmidt's wife. Years later, Schmidt's granddaughter Rosa is back in New Zealand running an Argentinian restaurant. When the doors close at night and the staff are cleaning up, she plays cassettes of tangos and Lionel, a nineteen year old dishwasher, falls completely under the spell of both Rosa and the music. But their relationship is equally problematic; she too is married and quite a bit older than him.

Jones skillfully weaves these two love stories in and out of each other, like the many legs (and other body parts) of his dancers. I don't watch much television, but will admit to a guilty obsession with shows like Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance. Dancing is sexy. And graceful. And just beautiful to watch, especially for a klutz like myself. Jones makes it just as seductive to read about, and educates the reader along the way about the history of tango music, dropping names and song titles and tantalizing descriptions. Hence the CDs. You'll want one that has some of the traditional tango music to go along with Louisa and Schmidt's story. Look for pieces by Carlos Gardel, Goyeneche and Troilo. Then for the modern love story, turn to the music of Astor Piazzolla. He caused quite a controversy in his time by experimenting with the traditional tango sound, but I love his infusions of jazz and piano into the music. There is a trio of linked pieces - Milonga Del Angel, Muerte Del Angel and Resurrection Del Angel - that is breathtakingly beautiful. I also have a wonderful CD of Yo-Yo Ma playing the music of Piazzolla.
And there's more to look forward to - Jones' second backlist novel Biographi , about a village dentist in Albania (Jones certainly doesn't write the same book twice), will be out in November.

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