Book Review: Dance Lessons by Aine Greaney

11 Apr

Genre: General fiction, Women’s fiction

Publisher: Syracuse University Press

Pub date: 11 April 2011

Source: Publisher via NetGalley

I happened to read this soon after I finished Say Her Name and was initially not happy about reading two books with the same theme back to back. But the treatment and the plot of Dance Lessons took some surprising turns and I’m still wondering how much I liked it.

Synopsis (from NetGalley)

A year after her husband’s death in a sailing accident off Martha’s Vineyard, Ellen Boisvert bumps into an old friend. In this chance encounter, she discovers that her immigrant husband of almost 15 years was not an orphan after all. Instead, his aged mother Jo is alive and residing on the family’s isolated farm in the west of Ireland.

Faced with news of her mother-in-law incarnate, the thirty-nine-year-old American prep school teacher decides to travel to Ireland to investigate the truth about her husband Fintan and why he kept his family’s existence a secret for so many years.

Between Jo’s hilltop farm and the lakeside village of Gowna, Ellen begins to uncover the mysteries of her Irish husband’s past and the cruelties and isolation of his rural childhood.


This is a story of 3 generations of women – Jo, Ellen and Cat who are all brought together by Fintan (Ellen’s husband).

Moving between different timelines and told in the voices of these three women, this is a sad yet hopeful story.

Fintan’s mother Jo was an unapproachable woman who was never able to show him that she did care and did love him. In fact, at times it seems like she resented him. This cruelty tells on his relationship with his wife Ellen. Jo is more than a crotchety old woman, though. For a son to say his mother was dead and to never attempt to contact her again, I knew she had to have done something horrible. In spite of how mean she was and how unloving towards her son, I felt sorry for her.

Ellen is trying to come to terms with her relationship with her husband which had its ups and downs. Coming to his town and meeting his mother and others who knew him allows her better understand why Fintan was the way he was.

Cat is the breath of fresh air and represents hope for both Jo and Ellen. The Dance Lessons refer to her hip hop dance classes that she loves.

I can’t really say I liked any of the characters – I felt a great deal of sympathy for Ellen and even understood Jo a little, but I couldn’t love either of them. But I do appreciate that they are both strong women who deal with their lives in different ways and a large part of this is due to the times they live in.

I can’t really discuss the characters too much without ruining the story. It unfurls slowly and the reader is given a peep into Fintan’s life slowly. The secrets are not easy to uncover though and Ellen has to persuade the people who knew her husband to tell her about him. Anyone who enjoys character-driven story will find a lot to like about Dance Lessons.


Ultimately, I can’t say I loved Dance Lessons. But this would make a good book club pick. There is a lot to discuss – marriage, parenting, coming to terms with loss and forgiveness.

Recommended for fans of Women’s fiction.

Rating: 3.5*

*See my Rating policy

Do you agree with my review, or do you think I’m way off? Just want to say hi? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

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