Title: A Company of Swans
Author: Eva Ibbotson
Published: 1985, St. Martin's
Category: Romantic Fiction
Reading A Countess Below Stairs last week sent me on a bit of an Ibbotson binge. I found a copy of A Company of Swans at the library. This book is currently out of print, but an edition (with this pretty cover) is being reissued in September.
Harriet Morton has led a repressed and dreary childhood, growing up in a lonely and cold house in Cambridge under the thumb of her narrow-minded professor father and meddlesome spinster aunt. The only thing that makes her really happy are her ballet lessons. In 1912 when she is 18, a Russian ballet master sees her dance and offers her a place in a touring ballet troupe that he is taking to South America. Of course, Harriet's father would never allow it. Dancing is low class and he's decided that Harriet will marry the pretentious entomologist Dr. Fitch-Dutton. But Harriet works up her courage and runs away and soon she is sailing for Brazil. She loves her new life; dancing before an appreciative audience, becoming friends with the other dancers and staff, and then falling in love with the mysterious Rom Verney.
Ibbotson has delivered again for me; I loved this book too (though not quite as much as Countess). Harriet is lovable in much the same way that Anna is: quietly appreciating life and living every experience to the fullest. And Rom was an even more interesting and complex character than Harriet. But while the two of them were great, the secondary characters in this felt a bit lacking. That was one of the things that I thought so amazing about A Countess Below Stairs---each person in the huge cast of secondary characters was so well drawn, no matter how little space was given to them. Whereas in this book, I had trouble remembering who everyone was. My other complaint is that the conflict, which starts out so promising, eventually diminishes into a simple Big Misunderstanding. Argh. A bit annoying, as always.
But I thought the setting was fascinating. Harriet's troupe sails up the Amazon river to the city of Manaus. I had never heard of Manaus (my knowledge of South American history is, well, a bit non-existent) and thought that maybe it was fictional. But no! A look at my atlas told me that much (have I ever mentioned how much I love my atlas?). And Wiki has a photo of the famous opera house where they performed. Isn't it great? Anyway, very unusual--exotic and interesting.