Pretending to Dance is a moving novel about the damage that secrets can do. Molly is happily married to Aidan, they have a good life together but something is missing. Molly can’t have children so they are going through the process of adopting a baby, it’s something they both want but Aidan is throwing himself into the process and Molly is much more reserved and nervous. She doesn’t want to risk anyone to find out about the secrets she is keeping.
The novel then goes back to 1990 when Molly was 14. She was growing up in a tight knit family, with her extended family all living close by. Molly was a typical teenage girl, obsessed with New Kids on the Block and Jonny Depp. She was a very naive girl, having lived a sheltered life, but on meeting a new friend, Stacie, her eyes soon become open to new things, particularly boys, and her focus in life begins to change.
Molly had a very close bond with her dad, Graham, she idolised him and she helped him in his work as a pretend therapist. He was suffering from MS and Molly did everything she could to help him and to make his life happier, it’s a wonderful relationship to read about. Molly was unable to see, or perhaps didn’t want to face, the fact that her dad’s health was deteriorating. So when he died it seemed very sudden and seemed out of nowhere to her. She was utterly distraught and began to question everything she thought she knew about her family, which eventually led to her leaving them behind and starting a new life but the secrets she carries are still haunting her.
I absolutely loved this book, it is Diane Chamberlain at her best. The novel is part mystery, part coming of age, part family and domestic drama; it’s got a bit of everything and it’s brilliant, I found it near impossible to put it down.
The opening of this book hooks you in immediately when you hear Molly tell how she is not only a liar but a good liar. Straight away you want to know more about her. Is she a pathological liar? Can we trust anything she says? Or is she lying to protect someone? So many questions and you feel compelled to keep reading. Molly is actually very good at keeping secrets much more than she is a liar but there is a fine line between the two – when does a secret become a lie? This is a question I kept asking myself all through this novel because I never really saw Molly as a liar, just someone burdened with a difficult secret but because she never shared her secret, it becomes a lie of omission and she really struggled with that. The idea of whether a secret is a lie, or can become a lie runs through this book and really gives you pause for thought.
The storyline focuses a lot on Molly’s dad Graham’s MS and this was so well written. I found it very difficult to read for personal reasons but you know a story is done well when it really gets to you like that. There was clearly a lot of research done into the disease and nothing is shied away from. It was apparent to everyone, including the reader, that Graham was deteriorating but the family colluded in shielding it from Molly, which in the end leaves her feeling very left out and lost. I felt increasingly more sympathetic for everyone in this family, no one had an easy time of it. Molly’s father was trying to keep going as long as he could but was obviously suffering. Molly’s mother was still very much in love with her husband but knew she was going to have to let go very soon, and this meant she became very focused on him which left Molly feeling unloved. Molly was just a normal teenage girl who wanted everyone to be okay, she didn’t have enough life experience to know that loving someone isn’t enough to keep them alive when they’ve had enough of suffering. It made me so sad that Molly and her mother couldn’t find a way to communicate, there were so many missed chances when they could have talked and formed a better bond together. It’s so true to life though that sometimes a misunderstanding, and the keeping of secrets drives such a wedge between people that it seems like it will never be able to be mended.
I was fascinated by Graham’s job as a pretend therapist, I love how it was woven through the book along with Amalia’s interpretative dancing sessions with Molly; it all revolved around the idea of finding out who you are and if you’re not the person you want to be then pretend for a while and eventually you’ll become that person. I don’t know if pretend therapy is a real therapy or even based on a real therapy, but the idea of it seems quite wonderful. I’m going to take the idea of pretending to dance and remind myself of it on the bad days, it really is a great lesson for us all.
I rated this book 10 out of 10 and can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a compelling read that has something for everyone, it’s a book not to be missed!
Thank you to St. Martins Press via Net Galley for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.
This book is published today in paperback and is available on Amazon.