The First Dance
Why should Alexandra (Alexa) Rosewarne flee her 18th birthday ball on Midsummer’s Eve, 1930?
The narrative then spools back to 1924. Alexa enjoys an idyllic childhood at Porthdeen in Cornwall, exploring the cliffs and coves with her closest friend, Harvey Ferris, their neighbours’ son. Alexa and her Venetian-born mother, Carlotta, travel to London to visit Carlotta’s estranged mother and stepfather, but Alexa’s innocent questions precipitate a crisis that indirectly leads to Carlotta’s death – something for which Alexa will now blame herself. Porthdeen can never be the same again, and she longs for escape, and to be reconciled with her grandmother.
After her flight from the ball, she becomes a lady’s companion in London. Her employment throws her first into the society of the suave Guy Moreland, and then takes her to Venice.
Catherine Law’s novel drew me in with its opening hook. Her beautiful descriptions of Cornwall brought back many memories of my own childhood summer holidays, and she later captures perfectly the glitter of high-society London and Venice, taking us from the chic Lido to the network of alleys and waterways of the old City. Alexa is a very believable character – the adored child, eager to be thought “grown up” but still given to flashes of immaturity, who becomes an insecure and naïve young woman whose desire to be loved leads to a disastrous mistake. Harvey is steadfast, dependable and loyal, ready to stand by Alexa when crisis engulfs her.
However, I thought the resolution to Alexa’s search for her grandmother was too contrived, and personally, I would have preferred a somewhat different denouement. The shift to rather Gothic melodrama seemed to unbalance the narrative. Perhaps this was because I had come to empathise with the lead characters and wanted an alternative future for them to what the author delivered!