The Dancers Dancing
By Eilis Ni Dhuibhne
Completed January 26, 2012
It’s the summer of 1972, and a group of teenagers from Dublin are traveling to west Ireland for “Irish College” – a time when they are immersed in Irish language, food and culture. The Dancers Dancing is a coming of age tale for most of the characters, but it’s young Orla who grows the most during this summertime adventure.
Orla and her friend, Aisling, are staying together with two older girls in a country cottage where they walk to the school house for lessons. The idea is to wholly submerge the students into Irish culture. They are not allowed to speak English, and by staying with families along the countryside, they are immersed in the pastoral lives of their fellow Irishmen and women. However, Orla is already on familiar ground. Her family is from the same village, which she tries to hide from her classmates, and Orla spends most of the summer trying to avoid her crickety aunt.
The Dancers Dancing is not a fast-paced, complex novel. It moves steadily with little dips and curves, like a river twisting through the countryside. My frustration with reading The Dancers Dancing has nothing to do with the writing or story; it’s my lack of knowledge about the plights of Ireland. I didn’t follow the significance of why the teens were being immersed in Irish culture, or fully understand the struggles between the Catholics and Protestants. Dhuibhne assumes her readers have an understanding of these intricacies, but sadly, I do not. Additionally, there was a lot of Irish language in the novel, with not enough context to interpret what was going on. A glossary would have been helpful for this reader.
None of this is the book’s fault. I just wish I had more historical and cultural information to more fully appreciate this novel. Despite my frustration, The Dancers Dancing was an enjoyable read. Dhuibhne writes beautifully, especially about the landscape surrounding the students. Shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2000, The Dancers Dancing is a light treat for fans of literary fiction. ( )