Forest Dancer: a review

I’ve just read an amazing book and wanted to share it with everybody.
Forest Dancer by Susan Roebuck is very special.

The story is set in Portugal where Flora, a ballerina with career problems, has inherited a cottage. This turns out to be inhabited by a woman who may or may not have been Flora’s father’s mistress and a child, Raquel, who may or may not be Flora’s half-sister. Raquel has leukaemia and Flora is tested to see if her stem cells will be a good match for a transfusion.

Flora is drawn into helping stage a cultural event in the village, which is at risk from fracking. Marco, a forest warden, helps to stage the show. Gil, a Portuguese TV star, comes to open the festa. Both men are interested in Flora. Gil is also interested in the standing stones by the forest lake and the legends and mysticism that surround them.

Raquel has leukaemia and Flora is tested to see if her stem cells will be a good match for a transfusion.

Lots and lots of interesting themes, including a very small mm sub-plot, and I couldn’t stop reading. I had to know what happened to the major characters (including the escaped budgerigar), and I even put my own writing on hold while I finished the book.

It’s extremely well written and brings the Portuguese countryside vividly to life. The author clearly knows and loves it. As well as the brilliant world building and fascinating sub plots, the basic romance is beautifully handled, always very realistically and with the lightest of touches. There is anxiety, not only about relationships but about the fate of the village, and Raquel’s health. There are amusing moments, too, sometimes poignant as when most of the villagers have their heads shaved to support Raquel, and when the children are rehearsing their dance under Flora’s direction.

I personally know Portugal well and was transported to the village where Flora was staying. However, I think anyone could enjoy this glimpse of the Portuguese countryside which includes an introduction to the language which Flora is practising. There is plenty to interest anyone who loves dance, nature, and stories that explore both culture and relationships.

Altogether a delightful novel and one that I hope will do really well for the author.

9 thoughts on “Forest Dancer: a review

  1. Not sure it would be my cup of tea, plot wise. I have to be in a particular mood for that sort of tale – but I do love stories that are very evocative of place.

    I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame (in translation) a good many years ago – and was really surprised by how big a ‘character’ Paris is in the story. You don’t get that from the film adaptations, neither do you really get how questionable the sexual ethics are. Both the city and its male inhabitants seem steeped in degradation.

    I love a Tale of Two Cities for the plot, but Paris there is just a foil, it could be set in any revolutionary city.

    Which is strange when Dickens made London such a living part of his novels, but it was an historic Paris for both writers, so perhaps for Dickens that made a difference.

    • I love really good world-building, whether it’s a real place such as Paris, or a fantasy world such as another planet or ‘fairyland’. I don’t like it so much when it takes over, as in novels like Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude where the place muscles in as a major character. I agree about The Hunchback of Notre Dame which I read as a teenager (also in translation). I didn’t see the film till a few years ago and the film would not have inspired me to read the book! Incidentally, I think one of the delights of Pros is the way the locations, in London and elsewhere, are brought to us in such detail. This book I’ve just reviewed really brought rural Portugal into my UK living-room – but the Portugal I knew and loved before the fires. However, it also emphasised the strength and solidarity of the Portuguese people, which has helped them overcome the tragedy of last October. The book, btw, was written in English, by someone I know vaguely on FB. She lives in Portugal and her familiarity with the place is obvious on every page. She has created a fictional village, community and forest that come vibrantly to life and express the essence of Portugal.

      • I agree with you about Pros – the city – and a particular point in time in the city – is a huge part of the show.

        From what you say, it sounds as if this writer has a real talent. And, although the plot doesn’t really float my boat, I’m glad it’s modern. So many stories set in southern Europe are about the past, which isn’t bad, but the countries still exist and most of us have holidayed there (and some, like you, have lived there) – so it’s not like there’s no familiarity.

        And I’m sure it’s not because there’s no market, plenty of my friends read that type of plot, only – from what I understand – most of those seem to be set primarily in the UK.

  2. To be honest, although it’s set in Portugal, the general concept would not have appealed to me. But as I said, I ‘know’ the author on FB and saw a lot of the comments at the launch. So I bought it – and loved it. The modernity was indeed a plus – this is rural Portugal at the present moment, with current concerns over the environment, finances and local government. It is also Europe as a whole at this point in time, with those concerns plus employment, housing, etc. So yes, it’s a het romance, with a focus on forests and dance, but it’s a lot more. And I loved the main characters at first meeting! So do recommend it to your friends who like that kind of book. It’s more than a romance – it’s a novel that comes highly recommended.

  3. Pingback: March Reviews | jaymountney

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