New Book – Dancing in the Dark by Maureen Lee

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Publication year: 1999

This new book I started last night is told from two perspectives and two different points in time. There are two main characters: Millie Cameron and Flo Clancy.

Millie Cameron is a first-person narrator at present time. We know from the start that Millie’s childhood wasn’t a happy one as her father beat her up as well as her siblings. Millie is the eldest, now 29, and she has two younger sisters Trudy and Alison, and a brother Declan. Trudy is now married with two children, and Alison, who is autistic, lives in a home, and her brother Declan can’t keep a job for long. Millie is divorced as she found marriage to Gary very boring. Then she went to night school, and now she works for an estate agency, and she hopes to get a promotion and head the new office her boss is about to open. Millie is going out with James, who wants to settle down and marry her, even if they agreed from the first that they weren’t serious. Millie finds him great fun and good in bed, but she is not in love. Millie is too private and hasn’t told James much about her family or her past. Only when he happens to meet Declan at  her apartment, the man learns about their mother’s lack of cooking skill and Alison’s autism. Millie is too ashamed of what she and her siblings had to go through while growing up. The only one who still lives at home is Declan, who is afraid to leave his mother alone with her father as he still treats her hideously. I don’t know why these siblings don’t make their mother leave such horrible man. In any case, Millie hates having to see her parents every last Sunday of every month. I think the trauma she lived as a child is still very much with her, and I think until she lets her pain out in the open, she won’t be happy. She even thinks that she is incapable of loving, and that is why she thinks she treats James so badly.

The day she goes to her parents’ for lunch, her mother tells her that there has been a death in the family. Her aunt Flo was run over and killed. Apparently, the family didn’t know they had another aunt other than their Aunt Sally until the latter died and Flo was at the funeral. Apparently, Aunt Flo and Millie’s Gran Martha had a fall-out in the past, but neither of them ever spoke about the reason why they didn’t talk in decades. Now Millie’s mother asks her to go to Flo’s flat and sort out her belongings, and even though Millie is reluctant, she finally agrees to do it.

The flat is in a depressed area in Liverpool, and all the rooms are cluttered with Flo’s belongings, so it will take her a while to sort out Flo’s things. The things that she finds this first day is some newspaper clippings about an accident of a submarine,the Thetis. She also finds a photograph of her father as a child, and also photographs of Flo’s best friend Bel with her several husbands. Millie meets Flo’s neighbour, Charmain, who was a friend of Flo’s, and on the second day she meets Bell, who she finds cheerful and refreshing despite her old age. Then when she and James are invited to Charmain’s son’s birthday, Millie gets to meet someone who she finds in her aunt Flo, Tom O’Mara, a man who is linked to the past that have been interspersed with Millie’s story.

Flo’s story starts in 1939. She lives with her two sisters Martha and Sally, but she gets on better with Sally, as Martha feels entitled to boss her around since she is around. Her mother is widowed when her husband, who worked for the railway, was killed when a train run him over. Apart from these women, there is a lodger, Albert Colquitt, a widow who is courting Martha, or Martha is courting him. Flo thinks that Albert doesn’t show much interest in her sister, and she doesn’t understand what Martha sees in a man who is over forty and not too handsome. I have the impression that Albert pays too many compliments to Flo, and I really don’t trust him. However, we know that he eventually marries Martha as Millie refers to her gran as Martha Colquitt.

Flo works in a laundry, and it is there that she meets Tommy O’Mara, a very attractive Irish man. The other girls at work tell her that Tommy is married, and Flo can’t hide her disappointment. However, when Tommy returns a few days and asks her to go with him for a walk, she doesn’t hesitate to say yes. I knew from the first that Tommy was a bit of a rascal. He tells Flo about his family in Ireland and his job as a fitter in the shipyard where they are building a powerful submarine. Then she feeds her a story about his wife not being his wife legally. According to him, she met Nancy when he fought in the Spanish Civil War, and they married in a gypsy ceremony, but that ceremony is not legal. So he promises Flo that he will leave Nancy and marry her when Nancy gets over the ailments that according to him, afflict her. I didn’t believe her for a single moment, but Flo was hooked already. That first night they have sex in a park, and Flo can’t feel happier.

They continue seeing each other on the sly.  Then tragedy strikes. The Thetis has had an accident and  a hundred men are trapped inside. Flo hears that one of the men is Tommy, so she goes to the place where she sees Nancy sobbing and making a show. When the woman looks at her, she realises that she knows about her. It is in this crowd that she meets who will be her best friend Bel. The two girls talk as Bel was also going out with one of the men trapped in the submarine. Bel guesses that Flo’s fella is married, and for the first time Flo can tell someone about her love. Bel seems more worldly-wise, and she thinks that Tommy has fed her a fake story about his marriage, and when Flo tells her Tommy’s name, Bel hems and haws before telling her about the man she was seeing. This makes me think that Bel was actually seeing Tommy as well.

The men can’t be rescued and die. Shortly afterwards Flo learns that some of the things Tommy told her were lies. Nancy is from Wales, and not Spain, and she is as right as rain. Then as I suspected, Flo discovers that she is pregnant, so she has to tell her family. Martha is outraged, and it is her who tells her that Tommy was married to Nancy properly, as one of her friends was in church when the banns for their wedding were read. Even after learning all the lies he fed her, Flo is hopelessly still in love and doesn’t think ill of the man who lied to her. Her mother thinks that what Flo should give her notice at work and then stay locked at home until the baby is born and can be given for adoption. Flo agrees that this is what she should do, but what she doesn’t intend to do is to give her baby away. It is Tommy’s child. I wonder what happened to that child. In present time there is no reference to Flora having a baby, so either the child died or he was finally given for adoption. And who is this Tom O’Mara that Millie has found in Flo’s flat? Could it be that the child that Flo had was given to Nancy O’Mara, and this young man is a son or grandson of that child?

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