“The Road Dance” is the first of three novels written by Scottish journalist/t.v. broadcaster John Mackay and published by Luath Press; an independent book publisher based in Scotland.
“John MacKay was born in Glasgow of Hebridean parents. His childhood summers were spent at his Grandmother’s home in Carloway on the Isle of Lewis. The Road Dance draws heavily on the influences of that background” (quote from insert in The Road Dance).
The first thing I want to say about this book is that it is beautifully written but very sad. Tragic. I would not want to read it if I were feeling melancholy. The novel begins at the onset of World War 1 which ,of course,was a very difficult time in the world’s history. The road dance in the title was an event held to say good-bye to the first boys to leave the island (Lewis) for the war. (wasn’t it all supposed to be over by Christmas?) Island life was already difficult and their departure added weight to an already heavy burden.
A quote from this novel….”This community had suffered tragedy more than most. Death hovered in the wind; it rode the waves that smashed the rocks and seeped through the earth to ruin the crops. It stalked the young and the old. Its visits were accepted with a fortitude built on the faith that each soul would find peace at the feet of the Lord for time everlasting.” (p. 83) This speaks of the great strength and resilience of the islanders but I had trouble dealing with all the sadness. Be prepared to weep. This novel succeeds in extracting the raw emotions of the reader but this reader was just overwhelmed. I think I am trying to say that the problem (if it can be called that) is probably with this reader and not the novel.
A little advice……DO NOT READ THE BACK COVER. If that seems as though I am yelling than good…because I am! Almost all the major plot points in this novel are revealed in the blurb on the back cover. Why????
I have read the author’s other two novels and I hope to discuss them in future blogs (Definitely not as sad)
HEARTLAND by John MacKay (Luath Press, 2004)
LAST OF THE LINE by John Mackay (Luath Press, 2006)
I have decided to add another quote from this book because it is so revealing; “Sending their young men off to war had been a sad ritual for so long for the people of the island, and the dust of many of these boys blew across the historic battlefields of Europe and beyond. Yet again the King had called from far away, and the young bloods had rallied to the cry. And when the steel had clashed and the guns had roared and the victory had been won, those who were left would return home to be forgotten again. The Islanders knew this and yet they always marched. It was God’s will some said” (page 71)
All this gut-wrenching emotion and the H.M.S Iolaire is not even mentioned until the second book.