Monday, 7 February 2011

A Girl's Guide to Kissing Frogs by Victoria Clayton

Marigold is a principal dancer at the Lenoir Ballet Company, on her way to becoming a prima ballerina. She is willing to do anything - even sleep with the ballet director Sebastian - to ensure that she makes her way to the top. However, a painful fall sends her home to her parents for a lengthy recovery period in Northumberland. She is reacquainted with childhood friends Isobel and Rafe, and finds herself swept into a whirlwind of society parties. Rafe seems willing to have Marigold in his life in a more permanent fashion - but insists Marigold must give up the dancing for good. Just how willing to find love is Marigold? What is she prepared to sacrifice? And is there a handsome stranger waiting in the wings?

You know sometimes you pick up a book on a whim and end up truly surprised and delighted? This is how I feel on closing the last page of A Girl's Guide to Kissing Frogs. I thought it would be an easy piece of fluffy chick lit to enjoy, but instead found an extremely amusing take on class and society.

In Clayton's novel the romance is almost incidental to the gossipy tale of the doctor's daughter (and a ballet dancer, no less!) being engaged to the son of the local gentry. Clayton explores - with sometimes hilarious consequences - the collision of classes in this very entertaining novel.

Marigold is a deliciously naive and fey girl, who has never really experienced love. Her character is written beautifully, so that you can sometimes marvel at her ditzy comments and be frustrated with her inability to confront *anyone*, and yet constantly find her very sweet and believable.

The rest of the rather large cast are also wonderful, from Golly, the writer of quirky operas, to Fritz, a darling German who is trying to learn as much English slang as possible and cooks like an angel. Conrad is a very, very effective leading man - dark, saturnine and very intelligent!

I felt the addition of details about ballerinas and dancing gave an extra facet to the novel - never did it feel as though Clayton was self-consciously including the information. Rather, it presented a realistic and well-researched look at the sometimes grimy world of ballet.

The pacing of the novel was incredibly gentle - Clayton took her time to let the story and the characters unwind. It could be said that the novel was maybe too long for the actual story content within the pages, but I had no complaints with regards to this.

As I said, this novel was a complete surprise - it felt almost like a modern-day Jane Austen, with the satirical commentary hidden behind a very lovely romance.

My only real complaint was regarding the last minute reveal of some rather incestuous goings-on. Incest felt far too edgy for this novel - and the reactions to same rather disturbed me, as people accepted it with equanimity. Clayton seemed to revel in the idea of adding a darker element to the story, but it just felt very out of place.

Apart from this misjudgement, A Girl's Guide to Kissing Frogs was truly lovely, one of my favourite reads so far this year. I loved the characters, the glimpse into the life of a prima ballerina, and the humour. I think I only need to say that, after reading this book, I've now added all of Victoria Clayton's novels to my wishlist.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, lucky you, if you've got all the rest to read! This is actually my least favourite of her books. If I had to offer a criticism at all, it would be that they all move along similar lines, but the same people pop in and out of all of them, so that you catch up on what's happened to people after "their" novel, and the stories are completely absorbing. The best two, I think, are Clouds Among the Stars and, most glorious of all, Dance With Me, which is one of my regular comfort reads. Clayton and I are the same generation, and they are all set around the 70s, so I identify quite strongly with her characters (I think we were rather amused by incest in those days, at least we hippy-manqué types!)
    There are two children's books written when she was young - can't remember what name she was writing under but Fidra publish them: The House Called Hadlows and The Winter of Enchantment. Gaiman cited her as one of his influences.