Wednesday 16 November 2022

A Dream of Sadler’s Wells, Lorna Hill

We meet Veronica on a train taking her away from her beloved London to live with relatives she barely knows in Northumberland. Her mood is dark and she compares the north of England unfavourably to her home city. When she meets a curious boy while escaping an increasingly smoke filled carriage she reveals that her father has recently died, as well as her secret dream of becoming a ballerina. The boy shares his own secret aspirations with her and they pass the rest of the journey in relative peace. On arriving with her family it soon becomes clear that they don’t have much in common - Veronica rushes to help the chauffeur and can’t understand why this is forbidden. Her cousin Caroline is friendly but Fiona is unpleasant throughout, jealous of Veronica’s toned body and talent. Veronica is dedicated to her art and practices diligently in secret until she is given a glimmer of opportunity, her aunt agreeing to her training as a dance teacher. Will she be able to persuade her society family that dancing is not to be looked down upon and achieve her dream of joining the Sadler’s Wells School of Ballet?

This is a cosy, innocent read with many a picnic and pony ride and the only peril being Fiona’s sharp tongue and the possibility of a missed train. They live a privileged life, and although this can be constraining, ultimately their voices are listened to far more than many would have been. Veronica’s ‘sort-of a cousin’ Sebastian is kind and understanding of her dreams. He is also the only person that can put Fiona in her place. Reading this felt very reminiscent of books like The Railway Children or The Famous Five where many a simple adventure is had, idyllic days are spent exploring, and small battles are fought with adults. 

As Veronica is not yet a student at Sadler’s Wells the focus is less on ballet than I imagine the rest of the series might be, but there is still plenty to keep fans interested. Hill shows both the glamorous, elegant side of performance with the beautiful costumes and union with music, but also the daily grind of attaining the skill to create such moving displays. Veronica has a deep appreciation for the art and finds herself lost in the music and surrounds, performing above and beyond anything she has attained previously. She is also lucky to have supportive adults around her. Her beloved Madame back in London and her new teacher Miss Martin go out of their way to support her in achieving her dreams, an indication of the talent they see in her.

Despite Veronica’s reservations when first arriving in her new home, she comes to appreciate the landscape and enjoys summer days spent with her cousins and Sebastian. Nonetheless, she offers us plenty of glimpses of her life in London and we get a good sense of the characters she knew there. Mrs Crapper, her landlady, and the artist Jonathan who lived above them and encouraged her creativity to flourish. She reflects on the shift from leaving London and feeling as though she were losing her home and returning and feeling still that she is leaving home. Her feelings are conflicted and realistic as she grows into her new life.

This is a delightful read with amusing misunderstandings and all the joy of the freedom of youth. Veronica is an amusing narrator, brutally honest in some of her opinions, but ultimately kind and hardworking. The writing is richly descriptive and absorbing. The perfect cosy read for the colder months.