Invitation to Dance by Marion Urch

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Invitation to Dance by Marion Urch

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Natalie Baker
Reviewed by Natalie Baker
Summary: The story of an Irish girl turned Spanish dancer – there's plenty of intrigue and scandal, lyrically written, but the book never quite catches fire.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: March 2009
Publisher: Brandon Books / Mount Eagle
ISBN: 978-0863223952

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Lola Montez was an undeniably fascinating woman, a product of and producer of scandal. Born Eliza Gilbert to a young Irish girl and an English junior officer, she spent her early childhood in India before being shuffled off to relations in Scotland and then school in Bath. This novel chronicles her life and career as a Spanish dancer, all over Europe of the mid-nineteenth century and as far away as America and Australia.

It reads very much as an autobiography, mainly – but not completely – in the first person, and it is beautifully written. The descriptions are lyrical, the prose flows effortlessly, but at the same time the style seems to sap something out of this story of a woman who declared that even my enemies must admit I always had a flair for living.

Even knowing the story was true, I had a hard time believing that a woman who seems always to be so uncertain of herself and so afraid – and much of the time so sad – was also able to carry off her Spanish dancer alter-ego. This was most obvious in the passages describing her dancing, which felt flat. Throughout the book I never got a sense of the heights of her energy or the depths of her desperation, even though she clearly must have had great quantities of both. While I appreciated the angle taken was to look behind the headlines and the scandals, and to dispel the wilder rumours, it was simply difficult to imagine with this Lola how the scandals could have erupted in the first place, or just how she made herself so alluring to all the famous men with whom she was linked. To me, she didn't seem to have much flair, and she didn't even seem particularly interesting. I neither liked her nor hated her – by the end I was almost bored with her.

The life she led is however incredibly interesting. The book is a pleasure to read, and has certainly sparked my curiosity to find out more about her. For those who enjoy true stories but find autobiographies too heavy-going, this may well be a good choice. For all the men and all the love-affairs that Lola runs through, it's perhaps unsurprisingly lacking in real romance; it's a tale of the real world and a woman trying to support herself and stand on her own two feet. And for the sympathetic, unglamorous picture that it paints, it's worth reading.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Another fictionalised biography of a very different lady, but who lived in the same time period, is Chasing Angels by Sally Zigmond.

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