Book Review - Various Positions by Martha Schabas

Various Positions 
by Martha Schabas
Doubleday Canada, 2011, 361 pages

There is a reason that “coming of age” novels are so prevalent: they provide endless material for both a writer and a reader. Everyone has had their share of knocks and epiphanies on their way to adulthood, and getting a peek how someone else negotiates that particular path usually holds a guilty appeal. Especially if that someone does a worse job than you did. 

Various Positions is such a story, with the added difficulties and discipline of professional ballet thrown in for good measure. The contrast between the messy business  of adolescence and the flawless control of dance makes for a compelling novel.

This is author Martha Schabas’ debut novel, and it is deft and dark and intense.

Georgia Slade is fourteen, and growing up in Toronto. Her parents’ marriage is unhappy and fraught with emotional landmines; they are so busy in their war with each other that neither is paying much attention to her. Her friends at school have little in common with Georgia, and are moving rapidly into teenage territories of drinking and making out, activities that  frighten and repel her. She is an awkward outsider, with dancing as the only place she feels in control and powerful. “My body takes over and it’s like I don’t need to see, like I’ve lost control and have tons of it at the same time,” she says.

After she is accepted into the prestigious Royal Toronto Ballet Academy, Georgia finds she still has to deal with issues she had hoped would stay out in the real world; the pressure of fitting in, of burgeoning sexuality and of growing up.  Through her talent and her single-minded determination, she catches the eye of the Academy’s artistic director, Roderick Allen, who’s approval is desperately sought by all the dancers. Georgia’s reactions to his attention illustrates how a teenager’s inadequacy and inexperience can send a situation off the rails, without ever seeing it go so wrong.

Even if you are not the least bit interested in ballet, this novel still resonates with truth and wisdom about growing up and making sense of the world. The writing is delicate and fine; it pinpoints the shifting ground of adolescence; where you know exactly how to behave one minute, and then you’re floundering the next. Author Schabas describes Georgia’s desperation and confusion in coming to terms with herself and her surroundings with nuance and honesty.

This is a novel that hits very few false notes.

Canadian-born Martha Schabas earned a B.A. in Political Science from McGill University in Montreal, and a Masters Degree in Creative Writing from East Anglia University. She currently lives in Toronto, and is working on a second novel.

(Out of 4)

Ruth McGregor is a London hairdresser who reads way past her bedtime.  

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