Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Nobody Was Quite Sure Where She Came From: The Man With the Dancing Eyes by Sophie Dahl

She spent her childhood in a tall imposing house in Belgravia--alone, but for a host of homely nannies who adored her. Her summers were spent in a crumbling palazzo outside Rome named the Villa Splendida, and her youth passed sweetly, solitary and uninterrupted, until either parent, filled with remorse or longing, would arrive to bewildering fanfare and sweep her off to exotic climes for a week or two.

Mostly she was happiest sitting on top of the Aga, her small nose firmly buried in a book.

Sophie Dahl's The Man With the Dancing Eyes shares a gangly, self aware but wholly appealing quality with its heroine, Pierre. A self-proclaimed modern fairy tale, Pierre finds love with the title character (who remains a fill-in-the-blank, quite on purpose I'd imagine), and loses it, and goes off to find herself before attempting to find it again. Illustrated throughout by Annie Morris with loose, surreally beautiful ink-and-watercolor drawings of Pierre and her love and their quirky supporting cast in a lively meld of text and pictures, it's a unique little reading experience with quite a lot to offer. A number of readers have compared it to a grown-up Eloise at the Plaza, and I'm inclined to agree:

When she was not posing for Mr Chin she would pace the streets of Manhattan, often finding herself in the Mummy Room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This became one of her favorite haunts. (She wondered what Ernest, the Freudian, would make of her attachment to mummies.)

Short in length but not in whimsy, The Man With the Dancing Eyes is lovely. Read, as Ms. Dahl herself suggests, "on a melancholic Sunday afternoon swaddled in blankets."

The Man With the Dancing Eyes
by Sophie Dahl, illustrated by Annie Morris
Official Website (with excerpts, animations, computer wallpaper and e-cards)
Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Powell's

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