Wrenched from Sydney and her friends in the aftermath of her father ending his marriage to live with the Slut, Rochelle has to adjust to living in Melbourne with her mother, who doesn’t want to talk about him or anything much except her new social work course. Rochelle’s already going to be a couple of days late for the first day at her new school, and when her tram reaches the private girls’ school something makes her turn around and explore the city instead. Her mother’s too absorbed in her own classes to even shop for food, let alone ask Rochelle anything more than the most generic questions about school, her mobile’s broken, and her best friends back home haven’t even written to see how she is. So Rochelle takes a holiday and browses the funky shops of Smith and Brunswick streets, then gets a part-time job at a fairy tale bookshop. As she learns more about mythology and folklore, and discovers that there’s a tale that fits everyone she meets, Rochelle starts to make sense of her new life. Until that, too, starts to fall apart.
Dancing on Knives is told a little as a fairytale itself - each section opens with a scene and a new notebook, through which Rochelle’s story unfurls. The title comes from the original version of the Little Mermaid, which she learns is significantly different that the Disney film, though its significance isn’t clear to Rochelle until the end. In the meantime she begins to discover who she is in her own right, and what she wants.
This is a rewarding coming of age tale that beautiful combines a rich background of myth, folk and fairy tale with a contemporary setting. The Melbourne details are real and vibrant without being obvious, and I thought Rochelle was a convincing character whose journey was absorbing and interesting. - Alex