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Ballet girls

OVERVIEW: Rereading 'A Company of Swans'

A Company of Swans: Eva Ibbotson

This was the first Eva Ibbotson book I read and it was published third, after ‘A Countess Below Stairs’ and ‘Magic Flutes’. It replaces opera with the ballet, has two English protagonists, although Rom is also part-Ukrainian, and they meet ‘abroad’ although there is an English stately home in the background. It features the incredible opera house built on the Amazon, a location with a real hold on Ibbotson's imagination, as she returns to it elsewhere.

I remembered scenes vividly, such as when Harriet stepped in to dance as the ghost of Odette, and danced the part so powerfully. I didn’t remember all the contrivances as the rich Europeans, and the Brazilians and Indians rally around Rom, their leader by virtue of wealth and force of personality, when he needs it, while runaway Harriet gains the protection of the ballet company that brought her to Brazil, away from a cruel, loveless upbringing that would make the rest of her life a crushed one.

Rom notices Harriet dancing among the company of swans, and it is her positive goodness and gift for love that make him quickly fall for her. Meanwhile she came to the ‘river sea’ charged to find him by a little boy she met once.

The problem is that weakness of many a romantic novel, in an attempt to create tension, the lovers do not communicate. They both get wrong ideas about the other into their heads, Harriet expressly forbids talking about the future and Rom doesn’t make himself clear, leading to heartache for both and even worse for Harriet. And that’s after a misunderstanding nearly jeopardises their relationship before young Harriet has grasped why she is so upset that Rom (short for Romain) has shut himself off from her.

t’s a book of grand passion, partly because of the ballet, partly the setting, where the flora and fauna and everything seem more than they would in Albion. The push and pull between comedy and tragedy is a little more jagged than in the previous two books, I found. I appreciated what a mixture Harriet is of naivete and erudition and that Rom is made silly by love. But although this was the book that first turned me on to Ibbotson – and I’m so glad it did! – in hindsight, it’s faults make it weaker than the others I’ve reread. Hmm, having reread my review, I certainly engaged with it more that time, but this time, the lack of communication between Harriet and Rom was always there.

This entry was originally posted at http://feather-ghyll.dreamwidth.org/144918.html. Please comment wherever you prefer to.

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October 2017

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