‘Dancer’ by Colum McCann

This is a fictionalised biography of Rudolf Nureyev. And wow. What a book! I’d give my right arm to be able to write like that. The narrative is experimental to say the least, with frequent changes in point of view from one of Nureyev’s friends, colleagues or relatives to another. Each time the point of view switches, the style changes – from diary entries to letters to rambling monologues, each reflecting the characteristics of the person whose voice is being heard. In one case an entire chapter of 32 pages is told in a single sentence, bringing a breathless, non-stop quality to the voice of a breathless, non-stop social butterfly of a character. It’s masterly stuff.

I found the early chapters relating to Nureyev’s childhood in Russia particularly moving. The life was one of unmitigated bleakness and left me at least in no doubt as to why he defected the minute he discovered an alternative, and more colourful, lifestyle elsewhere.

Some of the character’s homosexuality was also touched upon, although this was primarily about Nureyev the dancer, not Nureyev the sex-machine. šŸ™‚

My only criticism is that in choosing to write from everyone’s point of view but Nureyev himself, the central character remains rather shadowy and insubstantial, almost as though he’s dancing behind a net curtain. For such a strong and dynamic character as Nureyev undoubtedly was, that seems rather a shame.


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