In Dance With Me Victoria Clayton combines the best traditions of a 19th-century romantic novel with smatterings of gothic horror, successfully updating the action to the long hot summer of 1976. The plot unfolds around the sweetly naive Viola Otway, of dubious parentage, with little formal education and a startling ineptitude in the kitchen. Sent to investigate the potential for rescuing Inskip Park, a crumbling country mansion of little architectural significance but some beauty, she discovers the house somewhat beyond immediate salvation but the resident Inskip family more promising.
As Viola's involvement with the family intensifies she unwittingly causes enough disasters and meets enough unusual people to give full rein to Victoria Clayton's talent for humour. From an unusually ugly peer of the real m who "considers eating lettuce to be the moral equivalent of buggery" to an elderly lady in danger of falling pray to a con-man, each character is cleverly developed and highly amusing. Numerous subplots incorporate the tragic consequences of post-natal depression, dalliances with some unattractive locals, closet homosexuality, loyalty, betrayal and of course love, producing a substantial novel that is a rapid read. The culminating amateur theatrical event and ball are irreverently reminiscent of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park but, as is the rest of the book, much more fun. --Louise Ellison