Review Blog

Jul 25 2014

Dancing on knives by Kate Forsyth

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Vintage Books Australia, 2014. ISBN 9780857983466.
(Age: Senior secondary) Recommended. Dancing on knives is an original story of a dysfunctional family living in a coastal town in New South Wales. The story is largely told through the eyes of Sarah, the eldest girl, who has made herself a prisoner in her own home for five years. She suffers from acute anxiety which Forsyth describes with both vivid clarity and sensitivity. The view of Sarah '(creeping) inside like an injured animal seeking sanctuary' and 'failure tasting like vomit in her throat' (p146) evoke compassion rather than frustration. Sarah is reminiscent of Laura in The glass menagerie but for Sarah the addiction is romance novels which she consumes voraciously as her choice of mind-opiate, but does little to satisfy her until she discovers Women in love which strikes a resounding chord.
In her 'prison' Sarah is surrounded by her three brothers, of whom Tom is the most understanding, and a stepsister, the brat, Kate. But with the use of flashbacks we are also introduced to her now deceased mother and her more influential grandmother Consuela who has left her the silk wrapped Tarot cards 'to help her see more clearly'. But what pervades this particular menagerie is the tempestuous Augustus, the father, who has a wild passion born out of his Spanish ancestry and his artistic disposition. Gus's moods set the tone for the house so when he disappears only to be found later hanging from a cliff the household is sent into further disarray, particularly as questions concerning the cause of his accident arise. This is the suspense which holds the plot together, but this novel is far from just a mystery. Its strength lies in Forsyth's ability to develop her characters deeply so that, as far as this world may be from our own, we can at some level relate to and empathise with them.
Like the Little mermaid in the brutal story of her childhood, Sarah is dancing on knives and we only hope that one day she may escape such torture.
Barb Rye

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