It’s no secret I’m a massive fan of ice hockey. And interestingly enough there aren’t a lot of novels which feature it. So of course I’m going to want to read a novel with Ice Hockey as a central plot-line. Catherine Czerkawska’s Ice Dancing is, on the face of it a standard romance story, maybe even an Aga saga (I’m still not sure what one of those is) but there are hidden depths which strike you like ‘a puck to the head.’
Let me reassure you, you don’t need to be up on ice hockey to read this book. Though once you’ve read it I bet you’ll at least be thinking twice about finding somewhere to see a live game!
In this contemporary romance, Helen is approaching her 40th birthday in a life she admits she ‘hates.’ It’s not that there’s anything wrong with her life, she has a decent husband and lives in what might be considered a ‘rural idyll.’ Her teenage daughter shows just the right amount of rebelliousness but there’s really nothing to rock the boat of the averageness of it all. It’s the sort of life you think you should be happy with. But Czerkawska shows us from the off that appearances can be deceiving.
The small rural community characters are beautifully and realistically drawn – I felt like I was back in the village I lived in for 12 years prior to my current abode. The characters are not stereotypes because they are too real for that, but they do it seems inhabit more than one village in Scotland! The landscape and the relationship of the people to the land is also well drawn without sentiment but with an awareness that rings true for anyone who lives in rural lowland Scotland.
I particularly liked the way the women do the rounds of evening entertainment in the long winter evenings moving from one hobby to another. At the time of the novel Helen goes to Line Dancing and Helen notes the isolation of this kind of dancing which contrasts with the fast paced ‘dancing’ of ice hockey and this becomes an underlying motif for the novel. Helen’s life is Line and she wants Ice. And with the arrival of Joe, she gets her opportunity.
Embarking on an affair is something that inevitably may cause the reader to lose a bit of sympathy for the central character but Czerkawska manages to tread the line very carefully – retaining enough sympathy that we sort of ‘want’ Helen to get what she wants, despite knowing that (as she acknowledges herself) she’s morally ‘wrong’ in doing this. It’s the real life moral depth of her dilemma which makes the story so compelling. The reader’s moral judgement and emotions are pushed around the pages like a puck round a rink. And of course, underneath, all is not as it seems, which changes the game once more.
Everyone, it seems, carries a skeleton in their closet, a secret which they hold from their nearest and dearest. Joe is no exception and one unforeseen consequence of his ‘affair’ with Helen is that his past is revealed in all its horror. But Czerkawska doesn’t overdo this, it comes out piecemeal and then with a tsunami, and then life goes on – but changed. Just like in reality. You take the hit and you carry on. Damaged, changed but you carry on. Because that’s what people do.
It’s very interesting to follow Helen through what is little more than a year in her life, because it’s a rites of passage I suspect many middle aged women will feel empathy for, the realisation that life isn’t what they hoped it would be, the looking for something different, not necessarily more exciting, just more fulfilling now they are different people than they were when they were misty eyed teenagers. We all get stuck in relationships and trying to forge new adult relationships is difficult when the last ‘romantic’ experience one had was as a young adult. Lives change, people change, even hopes and dreams change but Czerkawaska shows that while hope may be dashed, a rush of blood to the head is still possible for the middle aged woman. Yes of course there are consequences to any recklessness but the notion that a woman makes her bed aged twenty and lies in it for the rest of her life is now long outmoded and this novel shows the twists and turns of an ordinary woman in a rural environment and how she copes (and doesn’t) with her changing emotions and circumstances. There is romance but there is also reality. There is Line and there is Ice. We just have to decide what dance we want to do – and then do it.
Ice Dancing is available in Kindle format
Find out more about Catherine Czerkawska