Ask me to dance
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Where to start describing this extraordinary book? It is a book that is impossible to categorise and very different to anything I have read recently, neither of which are negatives. I was drawn into the book from the beginning, held throughout and left thinking about it long after I finished it.
The protagonist is Rose, a woman in the grip of a grief that has driven her to the edge of madness. We meet her as she arrives at a monastery where her doctor has sent her to rest and recuperate but it soon becomes apparent that this may not be the right place for her to do that. The monastery is down at heel, on the verge of closing and populated by only a small group of Brothers who are struggling with their own internal and rather petty tensions which in turn infect Rose and disrupt her state of mind further.
The author does a fantastic job of describing the crumbling monastery and its wild and neglected grounds, complete with a graveyard full of deceased Brothers, and it gives the whole book an air of despair and, for me, a slight creeping menace which was the perfect backdrop to the mental disintegration within Rose and the decay of the relationships between the remaining Brothers. Rose has gone there for peace and seclusion and possibly spiritual guidance, but it is clear than none of these things are on offer for her here where the Brothers draw her into their issues rather than helping her with hers.
We learn about the events leading to Rose’s breakdown gradually through the course of the book, at the same time as more information is fed to us slowly about the different Brothers and the tensions between us. This approach for me, resulted in a slow build of tension and oppression with minimal actual action until the final explosive events – a very clever reflection of how the tensions and despair and feeling of unfairness and futility have built up in Rose. The book is written mostly in the first person through Rose’s eyes, which let us get further into her mindset and feel what she is feeling and seeing. I was infected with it and the feelings have lingered in me long after I closed the book.
If I had a small criticism, it was that I was left unsure of the relevance of one of the characters introduced, whom I had thought would play a more vital role but it is a small niggle in an otherwise startling book.
This book is clever, thought-provoking, evocative, surprising, difficult, menacing and insidious. It defies the trend towards shoehorning books into a genre, instead leaping outside the box. It is not a comfortable read but it is a true and worthwhile one.
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Lights on Dark Water
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It’s not what I wanted, though
Sylvia Colley, with her sharp ear and clear, compassionate, head, is a poet to pay attention to. In this lively collection she beautifully balances the comic and the tragic, small things and big things, the tender and the satirical, to write with great clarity about the triumphs and defeats of ordinary lives and about how the extraordinary can suddenly break in. I think that what makes Sylvia Colley’s work so worthwhile is that childlike sense of wonder she manages to keep whatever and the sense of humour with which she underpins it. Life, with her, even if ‘it’s not what we wanted’, is still immensely worth living.
Piers Plowright FRSL Writer and Broadcaster
There is much to admire in these poems.
Peter Porter FRSL Poet and Winner of the Forward prize
These poems are sometimes painful but never depressing with qualities of simplicity combined with a complexity that demand an imaginative response. A radio 4 Listener