Colum McCann – "Dancer"

7 Oct


GENRE: Literary fiction
PUBLISHED: Phoenix Paperback, 2003


The back blurb:
“In the biting Soviet winter of 1941, a small boy spins on the earthen floor of a shack, his shabby boots kicking up the dust. Twenty years later, his first season in Paris, he has the world at his feet. Dancer is the story of a genius, an enigma, a social force. It is the story of one boy’s single-minded devotion to dance and of those swept along, and sometimes destroyed, by his obsession.”


McCann’s novel Dancer traces the life of Rudolf Nureyev, a Russian dancer. It’s no straightforward account, it’s rather a circling around Nureyev’s character. McCann does this using a bunch of different perspectives and different kinds of texts (diary, newspaper). At times, he is more absent than center of the story as the story focuses on his friends or his family. Some of these side stories, while interesting to read, have at best only a flimsy connection to Nureyev: they are about people who (once) were important to him.

What made these extraneous parts work for me is that Dancer is a beautifully written novel and a joy to read. There is no doubt that McCann knows how to write and what he’s about. But there is also a problem I had with that: MCann tries too hard for my liking. At times I had the impression that I was reading a manual about “How to write a literary novel”. McCann uses a lot of different styles – not in itself a bad thing – but this coupled with parts that I found a bit unnecessary (how about the long chapter about Victor? Surely it could be edited a bit) turned these parts for me into self-serving and pretentious writing which I don’t like much.

Example?

From the Victor chapter which is written in a kind of stream of consciousness mode:

[…] he enters a swirl of bodies – ambassadors balletomanes choreographers doctors engineers […] zealots – all hyped up on the show […]

Smart? Well yes, kind of. But I also had to laugh about this. I thought he really tried too hard there. My significant other went “OMG” so I’m not the only one who found this a bit too much.

Some editing and I would have been totally wowed.


Would I recommend this novel? Yes.

Would I read this novel again? No.

Grade: 4 / 5


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