The Man With The Dancing Eyes
by Sophie Dahl
"In the golden half-light of a midsummer's evening, the sort where any kind of magic can occur, and often does, in the midst of a party held in a wild and rambling garden stood Pierre, teetering on highly unsuitable heels, surrounded by a symphony of overripe roses."
The Man with the Dancing Eyes is the most simplistic book; it’s a “grown-up fairytale” illustrated book, and it also boasts some of my favorite writing which, like the rest of the book, like the story and the watercolor illustrations, is also very simple; and yet there’s a sort of magic about it. Sophie Dahl’s grandfather was, of course, the beloved children’s author Roald Dahl and I think The Man with the Dancing Eyes represents a splendid reflection of his influence on Sophie’s lifelong whimsy. Sophie has a way of choosing words and creating scenes that don’t necessarily appeal to the conventional idea of life, such as naming her heroine Pierre and describing the man with the dancing eyes in the way that “he had a tattoo of a mermaid snaking seductively up his arm and sang Bob Dylan tunelessly but with soul...”, but the strangeness of it all makes it even more endearing to me.
The Man with the Dancing Eyes has gotten a lot of mixed reviews from folks, some saying it’s a perfect bit of fluff and others saying that it’s terribly written and insultingly without substance. I always say that a bad review isn’t the sign of a bad book, but of an incompatible reader. I personally think the writing is fabulously fun, and intellectual in its way, and that’s what drew me to the book in the first place. I think Sophie intended for it to be at once a satire, a dramatization and a fantasy. It’s a little bit of everything and it can’t quite be classified, and maybe that’s part of the reason why I like it, too. It doesn’t fit into any one specification. A lot of us are that way.
The story follows Pierre, a girl inhibited by her imperfections, as she attends a lovely party, meets a man with dancing eyes, falls in love, begins an affair, has her heart broken, goes on an adventure to a new place, meets some charmingly crazy people, gets a dog, befriends a hairdresser, dances to Dean Martin, reconciles with her lover and eventually lives happily ever after. With an Aga, four babies and a goat. See? So simple. But sometimes – very often, in my case – life needs a bit of simplicity, and sometimes simplicity can be magical. What I love most about The Man with the Dancing Eyes is that it’s intelligent; so often I’ve struggled to find a good little book that will cheer me and lift my spirits, and it’s rare to find one that also maintains a level of intellect. It’s the worst when I’m reading a flouncy, romantic comedy-type book and I want to scream at the heroine for being so ridiculous or I inwardly roll my eyes a bit at the predictable use of words. I can only attest to having read a few simple, happy-making books that charm me all the way around and The Man with the Eyes is on the top of that list.
Many thanks to