An Invitation to Dance
An Invitation to Dance is a well-written and well-researched fictional biography of Lola Montez, an Irish-born woman who posed as a Spanish dancer and entertained kings (she was the mistress of Ludwig of Bavaria at one point), the Parisian glitterati, and American and Australian miners. In chapters named after the bindings of the diaries they are supposedly written in, Urch traces Montez’s life from her parents’ meeting in Ireland in 1820 to her death in 1861 at the age of just 41, as she develops from a willful young girl (she eloped at the age of 17) to an imperious ‘Spanish’ dancer, to a mature woman looking back on her life.
There are some nice touches—the boredom suffered by wives in the small outposts of India; the claustrophobia of long sea-voyages—along with some vivid descriptions of India, London, and Spain, as Urch charts not just how a young woman of the Victorian period survives without a father or husband to protect her, but also her relationship with a mother who did not have a maternal bone in her body.
This is not written as a tale of triumph heaped on triumph, but is ultimately, to my mind, a rather sad story, as the emphasis seems to be on what goes wrong in Montez’s life, and how she has to overcome one setback after another. But it is both an interesting story and is organised in an unusual way, bookended by chapters in the authorial voice, with the main story being recounted as if by Montez as she remembers her past, and the occasional aside written in the third person, as she sets a scene.