Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Dancer by Colum McCann (2003, 374 pages)

Dancer by Colum McCann (Dublin, 1965) was a very intense read, almost painfully so in the opening sections set among Russian soldiers in WWII being evacuated in railroad cars, novel based on the life of the great Russian ballet dancer, Rudolph Nureyev.   This is the third novel by McCann which I have read.  Prior to this I have read his Let the Great World Go On Spinning dealing largely with post 9/11 attack New York City life and his wonderful book about a post WWII European Roma, Zoli.  

Normally if one says, "the book was 337 pages long but it felt longer", it is not a complement but somehow in this case it is as there is just so much in this incredible novel.   We begin with Nureyev as a very young boy dancing for the people in his home town in Russia.  We see the tortuous process that took him into training to be a dancer in Russia.  We come to understand his family.  We are with him when he defects in Paris and for his great triumphs in New York City, London, and elsewhere.  We get to know others in his life as the novels varies both the narrator and narrative modes.  In one very powerful section we enter the drug  fueled world of rich artistic gay New York as personified by a Venezuelan street hustler raised to the status of superstar by his affiliations.   McCann frankly depicts the extreme sexual promiscuity of Nureyev, in one scene he and the Venezuelan stage a contest to see who can perform oral sex on the most men in a row without tiring.  Nureyev wins with nine.    There are some wonderful  characters like his shoe maker,  Margot Fonteyn with whom he danced over 500 times, his housekeeper, Andy Warhol makes an appearance as does Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams.    

We see how Nureyev spends the fortune he makes.  in one crazy scene he buys a painting for $50,000.00 and then takes it home in a cab to avoid the $100.00 delivery fee.  There are lots of things we never understand about Nureyev.  His ego was massive and he never really rose above his Tarter roots.  He could be cruelly capricious, and very generous almost simultaneously.   Somehow one is deeply drawn to Nureyev, his flaws make him real, his art transcends our normalcy.,

Dancer is a great novel.  I endorse it to all but the homophobic who I suspect probably do not read a lot of books based on ballet dancers anyway.  There is much to be learnt from in this novel.  

I have his Songdogs and hope to read it and his forthcoming Transatlantic soon. 

Mel u


Sue Guiney said...

Yes, I read this a few years ago and loved it. But you are the first person I've seen talk about it. I don't think it has gotten the attention it deserves. It really is a beautiful book, I think.

Mel u said...

Sue, thanks very much for your comment. I did a book blog search on this work and i was surprised to find no other blog posts on Dancer. It is a very powerful work