An old review of mine for an old favorite, just to show my never-ending love for Virago Modern Classics.
What a delightful read! I came across this book due to the comparisons with I Capture the Castle, another wonderful coming-of-age book and a favorite of mine.
Invitation to the Waltz is told from the POV of Olivia, the 17 year old protagonist, who has been invited to her first dance. The first half covers the morning of her birthday and the preparations for the dance. The second half is the dance itself. This book is definitely not for those who like plot-driven, action-packed or fast-paced novels. What drives this book are the characters. They are the most vibrant and memorable set of characters I have come across. Though this book is mostly from Olivia’s POV, we are also given a glimpse into Kate’s – Olivia’s beautiful older sister – POV as well. I loved Olivia! Overshadowed by her sister, Olivia often lacks confidence, is sometimes naive, and sometimes extraordinarily mature for her age. The author gives her readers a chance to see the world from Olivia’s eyes. We experience her hopes, fears, sadness. I loved how Olivia is so awkward and scared about her first dance. She is often childish and then admonishes herself for being so. There are no end to the humourous moments. The experiences of our lovable heroine before and after the dance, and her often awkward encounters with different people are laced with hilarious moments. The author’s beautiful prose makes these encounters and the people come alive.
The best part of the book is the dance itself. We get to see each new acquaintance through Olivia’s eyes. Each meeting is described in detail, and each person leaves something to ponder upon, both for Olivia as well as the readers. Maurice, who is so kind; Archie, who is so charming yet snubs her; Peter, the overly sensitive poet; the handsome, enigmatic Rollo Spencer and so on. At the end of the dance, Olivia looks upon everything with a new maturity and insight. The naive young girl grows up.
(Painting of a Viennese Waltz by Vladimir Pervuninsky)
The ending is a hopeful yet a sad one, as Olivia realizes that one dance has changed everything. Kate is no longer the same and neither is she. One night has changed the dynamics of their relationship completely.
Invitation to the Waltz is a deeply satisfying read, recommended for fans of Jane Austen, Dodie Smith and Nancy Mitford.