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Book Review

Michael Mayne

Learning to Dance

ISBN 0-232-52434-3

DLT, London, 2001, £9.95

(price at publication of review)

Reviewed May 2003; © Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2003

ĎI wanted to be an actor, but chose to be a priest.í The autobiographical pieces in this book are some of the most riveting. For my taste there were not enough of them. The suicide of the authorís father, also a priest, was one of those most desperately unforgettable moments in my lifetimeís reading. The story of Michael Mayneís childhood and adolescence surrounded by women is superbly written and the other chapters seem slightly heavier and didactic.

The running theme of the book is dance in all its metaphorical guises, most particularly as it emerges in science and the arts. There are also some good sections on real dance, circle dance and liturgical dance. The framework is set in counterpoint to the theme. The chapters are divided into months, and each has an introductory section on the activities seen in the medieval Books of Hours, for example, January is feasting, February is sitting by the fire. I should like to have taken the book meditatively through the year taking a chapter a month, as our parish study group is doing, but the constraints of this review demanded the fast forward approach.

If you are beginning to wonder what this book is about, I would have to say that it is largely about Michael Mayneís own extensive and fascinating reading list. It is a bit like being left in his library for an hour, or having the chance to read his commonplace book, and that is no criticism. In fact, itís a sheer joy, as he waltzes round the major theological topics of our time and every age: forgiveness, love, creation, faith. Who else could have explained the Fibonacci number theory as well as he did, and helped me, an anti-mathematician, to enjoy it? Itís a book to read more than once, to read in a group, to make an index on the spare back pages, so you can go back to the numinous passages.

David Scott


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