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Sex and Stravinsky – Barbara Trapido

As you know I read and enjoyed Juggling and Brother of the more Famous Jack (although I don’t seem to have written a review for that one). Hence I was keen to read Sex and Stravinski, but I was disappointed. This novel is not Trapido at her best.

Here’s the blurb …

 The time is 1995, but everybody is linked by their past. Brilliant Australian Caroline can command everyone except her own ghoulish mother, which means that things aren’t easy for Josh and Zoe, her husband and twelve-year-old daughter. Josh has bizarre origins in a South African mining town, but now teaches mime in Bristol. Zoe reads girls’ ballet books and longs for ballet lessons; a thing denied her until, on a school French exchange, she meets a runaway boy in a woodland hut. Meanwhile, on the east coast of Africa, Hattie Thomas, Josh’s first love, has taken to writing girls’ ballet books from the turret of her fabulous house – that’s when she can carve out the space between the forceful presence of Herman and her crosspatch daughter Cat who, after some illicit snooping, is secretly planning a make-or-break essay on mask dancers in Mali. Hattie wakes from a dream of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella and asks herself about the composer, ‘Do his glasses look sexy?’ His glasses are just like Josh’s glasses from two decades earlier. From far and wide, they are all drawn together; drawn to Jack’s place. Or is he Jacques? Or Giacomo? Beautiful, mysterious Jack, the one-time backyard housemaid’s child who, having journeyed via Mozambique and Senegal to Milan, is back exactly where he started – only not for long. In its mix of people from different spheres, the book throws up the complexity, cruelty and richness of the global world while, as a sequence of personal stories, it comes together like a dance; a masquerade in which things are not always what they seem.

 What I admire most about Trapido’s work is how she writes ordinary flawed characters sympathetically. Despite some serious foibles the novels are positive in tone and life seems a joyful, if somewhat savage, affair. However, the joy seemed lacking in this novel. Unusually some of the characters have no redeeming features – Caroline’s mother for instance. I’m not sure about the ending either – convenient yes, but realistic or even desirable? I’m not so sure.

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Juggling – Barbara Trapido

I grabbed this book off the return shelves at the library. I was drawn to the cover and I am glad because I really enjoyed it and I have gone on to buy Brother of the more Famous Jack.

Here is the blurb …

 Christina and Pam are sisters less than a year apart in age. Pam is tall and black-haired, while Christina is small and fair. Brought up in New York, they are sent to an English boarding school where they meet two boys, Peter and Jago. As the years pass, the four meet and part.

This novel is full of clever witty people – it reminded me a bit of A S Byatt’s series (although not as dense and literary). It also seemed to me to be very 60s, 70s second wave feminist in style although it wasn’t published until 1994 – it’s got that clever women in control of their destiny feel to it. Trapido had a light touch on some harrowing events, which could have bogged down a lesser writer. The novel is about relationships; all sorts of relationships – parents and children, siblings and lovers and how things change over time. Trapido has great sympathy for her characters – we like them and  we want them to be happy, despite their foibles and contradictions. If anything this novel is about finding your own path and trusting that everything will eventually be OK.

I shall be recommending this book to all my friends…

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