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on 25 October 2001
This novel failed at first to grasp me. I had started it once and ditched it. Haven't we seen the homes and lives of middle England, circa 1920, portrayed a thousand times? On a weekend break in the country, I tried again. I had been too hasty the first time. Lehmann's prose is captivating. She describes Olivia's first dance, her attempted elegance in a poorly assembled gown, her own and her sister's disappointment with the 'suitable young man' fetched up from somewhere to accompany them. The agony of appearing in a room full of strangers, relying on a lacklustre escort was particularly appropriate as I too attended a dance the weekend I read the book. I too had to face a room of strangers, and eighty years on, the same pain is still palpable in that situation.. Lehmann's writing becomes subtle and arresting. Scene after scene is written with truly fine comedy entwined with delicate reflections on adolescence, class and love . I howled with laughter, then blinked back tears at a poignant description of a blind man. Olivia doesn't enjoy as immediately successful an evening as her sister Kate but her 'Invitation to the Waltz 'of life is much more arresting.
Perhaps Lehmann borrowed a little too closely from Jane Austen's 'Mr Collins' in her portrait of the stuffy escort. ( Is there a bibliography of comic literary clergymen somewhere?). Perhaps the elision from comedy to tragedy played a little too obviously with the reader's emotions, but these reservations are curmudgeonly. The book is a toast to a young woman's debut into the world written with expert comic observation, and consummate prose. Delicious. Please read it!
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 20 October 2015
Audio Download Version:

First published in 1932 and set in 1920, Rosamond Lehmann's 'Invitation to the Waltz' centres on young Olivia Curtis, whom we first meet on the morning of her seventeenth birthday. Excited by the gift of a roll of flame-coloured silk, which she intends to have made into an evening dress, Olivia looks forward with longing to her very first dance. However, Olivia and her sister, the lovely Kate, are a little worried that they will not have a partner for the dance and in consequence they decide to invite Reginald Kershaw, the son of an old friend of their mother's to stay. But Olivia and Kate have not met him before, and when the rather boring and pompous Reginald arrives and announces that he enjoys everything "in moderation" and that he intends "to take Holy Orders", Olivia's and Kate's hearts plummet - what on earth use will Reginald be at whirling and waltzing them around the dance floor? And what will happen if Olivia has to suffer the indignity of an empty dance card? Despite her worries, Olivia (a shy, self-conscious and considerate girl who wishes she were as lovely as her sister) nevertheless aims to make the very best of her first dance - but will the reality live up to Olivia's hopes and dreams?

As one would expect from Rosamond Lehmann, who always writes lyrically of the human heart, this is a beautifully written coming-of-age story, which although may initially seem limited in scope, actually looks at a whole range of feelings and situations. There is Olivia, poised on the brink of womanhood, who is unsure of how to present herself, and worrying that her prettier, more socially accomplished sister and her friends, will outshine her; there is the affected young poet she meets at the dance whose peevish, over-sensitive behaviour unsettles her; there is the war-damaged young man, blinded by a sniper three months after joining up, who married his nurse and will never see the face of his baby daughter; there is the elderly rascal with skin that is "puckered and wrinkled, tortoise-like under the chin, his cheeks puffy and veined with purple, his eyes glazed and bloodshot" who takes the opportunity of a waltz with Olivia to press his paunch up against her young body and invite her to his cottage for tea; there is the insensitive cad who gets drunk and forgets his promise to partner her, and more. And all of these characters and their circumstances, despite being only briefly introduced to the reader, are so deftly and amusingly described by the author that we are left wanting to know more about them - especially Olivia - and that's just as well because Rosamond Lehmann returns to her heroine in her follow-up novel:The Weather In The Streets (VMC) which is buried somewhere on one of my bookshelves and one that I am looking forward to re-reading and reviewing in the not too distant future.

4 Stars.

Audio Download Version: Please note that although Joanna Lumley's lovely tones were just right for this story (and her 'cockney' and colloquial accents were an absolute hoot) the actual production of the audio version was not particularly good - which is unusual for Audible. If you have the option of reading or listening, then I would suggest that you opt for the paperback or Kindle version in this particular instance.
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