The Dancers Dancing

Ellis Ni Dhuibhne-Almqvist, Author, Eilis Ni Dhuibhne, Author
Ellis Ni Dhuibhne-Almqvist, Author, Eilis Ni Dhuibhne, Author Blackstaff Press $18.95 (242p) ISBN 978-0-85640-650-8
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Irish writer Dhuibhne (The Inland Ice; Blood and Water) offers an unruffled, pedestrian view of the lives of pubescent Irish girls in 1972, as a group of teenyboppers embark on their first long trip away from their Dublin and Derry homes. The girls take a bus to Donegal, to attend the summer session at an Irish language and culture school called a Gaeltacht. Two of them, fat misfit Orla and effortlessly perfect Aisling, assume center stage in the mild drama, although Dhuibhne sketches a large cast of supporting characters, including other students and the families the girls board with in Donegal. The story unfolds through quietly revealing dialogue rather than any clear direction in the plot. The young people attend classes and dances, acclimate themselves to their new surroundings, scuffle with familial and social loyalties and endure each other's minor betrayals and teen epiphanies. Orla actively avoids visiting an elderly aunt until the very end of her stay, but when she finally meets her relative, her predictable surprise at the old woman's warmth and endearing eccentricity is tepidly rendered, dissipating the energy for what could have been a poignant, illuminating scene. The girls take every opportunity to swim in a local river, and tragedy is foreshadowed, but when it comes it involves people outside the Gaeltacht, has no impact on the main characters and is dismissed in a page. The pace is sluggish, and the characters, introduced in initially engaging portraits, develop no further as the book progresses. Such obstructions to narrative flow and realized characters blunt the power of Dhuibhne's occasionally lovely prose. (Feb.)
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