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Dance Me on the Table
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by r. muir

This is two stories in one book. That is, Dance Me On The Table is two stories in one; dog be is another matter entirely, which I will get to.

The first story, or, possibly more accurately, the first strand of the story, is the first person narration of the afterlife of Sebastian Lazarus (carefully chosen name there), a septuagenarian who has committed suicide by hang-gliding. The second strand goes back some decades and follows the travels of said Sebastian Lazarus and his Indonesian Muslim lover Yayuk Kertanegara on their global travels. This latter strand contains by far the bulk of the book, but the author obviously feels that it is incomplete without the former strand.

The travels are full of troubles, with muggings, injuries, illnesses and, over and above all that, arguments and emotional troubles being the main flavour of the day. Sebastian is an atheist, Yayuk is a Muslim; Sebastian is a man, Yayuk is a woman who, however, is very slight and who chooses to dress in loose fitting male clothes. This means that she is often mistaken for a boy, with the resultant ill effect on Sebastian's fragile male ego. Yayuk is totally dependent on Sebastian who, until now, has been totally independent himself and who feels the necessity of caring for Yayuk and, in particular, her demand that they are never apart, as a major burden. You are constantly given the idea that this pair is completely unsuited and yet you also get the idea that they are inevitable. It is a clever author who can create this divergence.

Meanwhile, Sebastian is lying dead in his chosen wilderness. His spirit hovers near his corpse. It cannot leave and yet, apart from the gradual disintegration of his corpse, nothing much happens. His senses return one by one and muir (his choice of lower case, not mine) revels in the descriptions of each returning sense. This on taste:

Imagine the worst halitosis you have ever suffered, inhale deeply, sleep on it, add morning-breath after a previous-nights dinner of dog food, rancid eggs, and wine from a goatskin bladder, then belch, and youll have a mild impression of the taste treat I experienced just after sun-up

 or this on touch:

How can decomposed nerve-ends flinch and cringe and writhe in memory of everything from coyote molars to maggots?picture a beak-thrust into your ribcage to extract a crop-full of lung, or the acid-gnaw of grubs invading your small intestine

This book is unfailingly intense. muir captures well the colours and looks of the places visited by the odd pair and captures their interior, emotional life well. There is also a logic to his Sebastian after-death scene and his coming realisation of the presence of God. However, I must say that I never actually got to like either of the characters in this book and that meant that I never really got to like the book either. I could certainly appreciate the art and craft that went into it, but it was not a pleasant experience to read it. Also, on a very minor point, I wish muir hadn't kept insisting on referring to his female lead as Ms. Kertanegara. It's such an awkward name that everytime he used it, it would pull me up short.

Lastly, dog be. This is a short story about a dog that witnesses Sebastian's hang-glider suicide. It's quite nicely written with Lennon's Strawberry Fields Forever running through it, but the only reason I could find for it being there was so that the book could be published in two directions. Dance Me On The Table starts the book and gets to page 175. You then turn the book upside down and start again on dog be. This is quite an amusing little gimmick, which makes for a book that is a bit different to the norm, but that's all really. As harmless as it is pointless.

Dance Me On The Table is a well-written and cleverly constructed novel which I just couldn't find it in myself to actually like. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned that Sebastian is writing the novel of their journey as they are experiencing it, much to Yayuk's disgust. So is this the book that I've been reading? Does it really matter?


Buy this book from Amazon


ISBN 0 9545759 0 3
Snowbooks, 2004
Retail price 7.99


Open Book

Review by Chris Williams