Book review: Dancing to the End of Love

ROBERT LANAGHAN is a writer. Or, at least, he was, but, since his second book was published, he hasn’t written. Life has got in the way.

There was his passionate affair with Siobhan McGovern, a famous, if rather whacky, singer. She turned up at his book launch, fell for him, and lives with him, having become pregnant.

She hops off on tour, leaving Robert to care for their baby, Ciara, and, on her return, ceremoniously dumps him. Accepting an astronomical sum of money in return for a promise that he will never see his daughter again, Robert leaves, and spends his time travelling aimlessly around Europe to escape himself.

We pick up the tale as Robert flies, Ryanair, to London, from Italy, intending to take a flight on to Dublin, although he has no home there now, or any plans. 

But he changes his mind, sends his luggage on, and, instead, follows a family to Brighton, in a vague quest to destroy their happiness.

A complex character, Robert is irresistible to women. Every woman he comes across, it seems, wants to seduce him. And though he can never resist them, he knows he will end up destroying them.

I was intrigued by the character, if a little disturbed by him, and loved his meandering thoughts as he wandered around Brighton and passively accepted whatever life brought.

There’s a brilliant sense of place, and I adored all the references to Pinkie — another complicated woman magnet — from Graham Greene’s classic, Brighton Rock. It was fun, too, watching this quasi conman, as he got caught up in his own web of lies.

There’s an unexpected interlude, followed by a brief foray to Ireland, where Robert spends time in an artist’s retreat, that, with its lake and supper at seven, bears more than a passing resemblance to the Tyrone Guthrie centre, at Annaghmakerrig. The story eventually ends where it started, back in Italy.

Still smarting from the loss of his child, Robert doesn’t get drawn into relationships with Anna, or Laura, and when Juliette declares her love, he does something heinous to hurt her, and that, at two thirds of the way through the book, made me lose patience with him.

It wasn’t the act itself; that was shocking, but I could imagine this antihero having that moment of madness; it was the way, afterwards, that this man, who has lived a kind of fantasy life for so long, suddenly becomes self-aware and penitent. To me, this just didn’t ring true.

The pace — which had rattled along up to that point, slowed, suddenly, to a crawl. And when Maria, the youngest and most needy of all the women Robert has encountered, falls head over ears for him, there was a rather dull sense of déjà vu.

For much of the book, Robert is travel-weary; bruised and beaten, ill-shaven, and shabbily dressed. Had he really enough charisma to make all the women he encountered, from teenagers and twenty somethings, see through all that, and fall at his feet?

Or do writers, even those who have lost the will to write, exude some mysterious sexual power? Whatever, the book had redeemed itself by the finale, and I had made my peace with Robert.

It’s not clear if he is reformed, or simply ready to destroy someone else, but the open-ending allows the reader to feel that, perhaps, their antihero has found a semblance of peace of his own.

Dancing to the End of Love

Adrian White

Black and White Publishing, €8.99; Kindle, €1.26


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