"If I die first you dance on my grave".
I read Dance On My Grave in one sitting. It might be one of my favourite Aidan Chambers novels. The full title reflects more on the content: Dance on My Grave: A Life and Death in Four Parts One Hundred and Seventeen Bits Six Running Reports and Two Press Clippings with a Few Jokes a Puzzle or Three Some Footnotes and A Fiasco Now and Then to Help the Story Along.
Hal Robinson is a sixteen-year-old living in Southend, England. He's waiting for the results of his exams and trying to decide whether he should leave school and find himself a job, or rather continue studying to his A-levels (and if that, in which subjects). One morning, as he's sailing on a friend's boat, he capsizes and is rescued by Barry Gorman. Barry is eighteen and manages his family's record shop. The two boys immediately become friends and, later, lovers.
The story begins with a press clipping about a boy who is accused of desecrating his friend's grave. Social worker Ms Atkins is given the task to talk to Hal to determine his motivations and mental state. The whole book is composed of Hal's reports to Ms Atkins, as well as her own notes on their meetings and a couple press clippings.
It is immediately clear that Hal, much like other Chambers characters (see Ditto from Breaktime, or Cordelia from This Is All), has a real talent with words and writing. His reports are peculiar for his imaginative use of language. This is in contrast to Hal's mother observing that his spelling is very poor, which doesn't seem consistent with the novel itself. As a matter fo fact. Hal's favourite teacher Mr Osborne would like Hal to keep studying in his English literature class, even though he himself warns Hal that the subject won't open any career prospects to him other than teaching.
During all his life, Hal has always wanted a close friend, a "bosom buddy" with whom to share his whole life. He hasn't found one, though. When he meets Barry, he's suddenly struck with the feeling that he might be the realization to all his desires. Barry is attractive, self-assured, a seducer. He saves Hal after his boat accident by explaining to him how to deal with it, and then bringing him home for a hot bath and a warm meal. Barry was forced to leave school after his father's death in order to take care of the family's record shop. He offers Hal a summer job there, and invites him to hang out in the evenings.
This is how Barry is first described:A head of streaming jet-black hair above a broad and handsome face split by a teasing grin atop a tidy body, medium height, with the build and frame that can dress in worn and weather-bleached blue-jean shirt and pants as if in this year's flashiest marine jear.
Enter Barry Gorman, eighteen years one month. Further details throughout what follows. This is he who becomes it. The Body.
In his flasher, he was grinning, and holding up for my inspection one pair of dripping jeans.
Mine. Like me, lost overboard during the troubles.
Hal is very taken with Barry since their first meeting. He had seen Barry in school before, but had considered him unattainable. He's fascinated by the promise of a close friendship, as well as the fact that Barry is willing to guide him, to tell him what to do, how to behave, even how to dress.They stay together seven weeks, then the novelty of their relationship starts to wear off and things go terribly awry.
Shortly after their becoming lovers, Barry makes Hal promise that whoever dies first, the other must dance on his grave. It's the epithome of Barry's way - fast living, fast running, hard loving. While Hal looks for a mate for life, Barry seems more interested in living a life full of experiences. The umbalance in their relationship leads Barry to becoming tired of Hal and accusing him of being possessive.
One of the most interesting aspects in this novel is that the two main characters aren't at all concerned with being gay (well, Barry might be bisexual, but that's beside the point). They never question it, and do not worry about hiding it. At first, Hal is concerned that Barry's mother will not approve of them sleeping together, but Barry explains that she chooses not to see that part of his life. Barry's mother knows, of course, even though she does not comment on it. Hal's father knows, too, although he encourages Hal's interest in girls. I find this rather refreshing.
I'm definitely reading on in The Dance Sequence - I love these books.Cover attraction:
I like the watercolour feel of the Amulet Books cover, the sea green background, the seagulls, the clasped hands, the sailboat. My favourite cover remains the double edition of Breaktime and Dance On My Grave by Random House. On the left you can see the Italian cover. I like its semplicity, the sailboats theme, and the font used for the title - it looks like it's been scribbled on in ballpoint pen.