Thursday 23 November 2017

Sparkling love story that journeys from Belfast Blitz to pre-war Berlin

Fiction: The Way We Danced, Sophia Hillan, Ward River Press €16.99

Author Sophia Hillan
Author Sophia Hillan
The Way We Danced by Sophia Hillan

Justine Carberry

Academic and author Sophia Hillan (pictured) won many plaudits for her debut novel The Friday Tree, set in 1950s Belfast. Her second novel moves forward in time and opens in post-ceasefire Northern Ireland in the summer of 1995.

Ruth Deacon, a bored female historian, is at a crossroads in her life. There are rumours of potential change and restructuring in her university department.

Mounting pressure to publish new papers adds to the existing tensions in her personal life, where she is juggling a difficult relative suffering from dementia with a philandering husband who refuses to leave the family home.

A chance encounter with an old ex-teacher Edith Barratt offers the prospect of a possible project when she asks Ruth to be her literary executor.

The papers she uncovers, Edith's 'memory book', form the story within Ruth's story and we travel between the recent Troubles in Northern Ireland to Second World War Berlin, where Edith spent one enchanted evening dancing in Clarchen's Ballroom with the dashing German officer Paul Herrold.

Based on a true event about a Belfast woman falling in love with a German soldier, The Way We Danced recounts Ruth's efforts to get to the bottom of Edith's story and her fateful trip to Berlin.

Hillan's writing sparkles with wit and erudition and her descriptions of pre-war Berlin, the ensuing atrocities in Nazi Germany and the Blitz on Belfast are wonderfully evocative.

However the narrative jumps so frequently between different times and places that, like Edith's story itself, it is sometimes hard to follow.

Finally, it is up to Ruth to uncover the truth and disentangle the mysteries, and we happily accompany her on that journey.

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