Reading Notes:

Dancing from the Edge of Darkness

Dancing from the Edge of Darkness is primarily a work of poetic prose encompassing broad themes such as ways of seeing, consciousness, sexuality and gender, and constructing a range of periods and personalities. It deals with the areas of both psychology and spirituality, as ways of coming to terms with the self.

The narrative is a succession of amplified prose descriptions, in which the narrator poet or central character keeps on changing - so that one has to 'put oneself in the place of the other'; see from the vantage point of someone actually quite dissimilar to oneself, in order to have a main story line, or sense of narrative over and above the individual ones.

Poetic techniques are used to evoke or re-create a sense of the mystical. The book uses synchronicity, recurrence and atmosphere, among other modes, to suggest what lies outside the self - or specifically, the self that is beyond the self.
Questions Raised by the Book

  1. Did you find it hard to understand or identify with any of the characters?
  2. What similarities can you see between the different characters and their stories?
  3. Would you agree that love is a unifying concern or fundamental theme the stories all have in common?
  4. How important is humour, especially black humour, to this book?
  5. Is the novel too pessimistic or bleak?
  6. Did you consider the various narratives as different aspects of the same story?
  7. Would you agree that the book dramatises a crisis in the life of a single individual?
  8. Do you think that the stories are part autobiography or pure invention?
  9. So you think that Maggot is the overall narrator of the stories?
  10. How reliable a narrator is Maggot, and can a reader trust the verity of her perceptions?
About the Author

Dīpti Saravanamuttu was born in Sri Lanka, and has lived in Australia since 1972. She is of Tamil back-ground on her father's side, while her mother's mother was Sinhalese, and her maternal grandfather British.

Her high school and university years were spent in Sydney, where she began writing and publishing poetry. She has worked as a journalist, scrptwriter (with the migrant women's film group), and as a postgraduate teacher and lecturer at the University of London.

She has published reviews in various magazines and newspapers.

Extract

I try not to look at him.

I don't need to anyway, he knows what I'm thinking.

He knows not to smile at me when he speaks, or the others become deadly resentful.

Still, I cannot bear him to smile at anyone else.

I don't go to see him with my everyday problems as the others do - what to do about a wayward brother, or the sale of a cow. To me, he is too precious for that.

I am unwilling, or unable, to reduce him to the mundane, although he probably wouldn't mind.

The only phrase that comes to mind when I think of him are the words of a poet I once read - "the sweet planes of his face".

But we are all responsible for ourselves. We all appear to suffer this affliction.

Sometimes ... sometimes I know that our failure to attain importance and value in a world ordered by men is in part a failure of sisterhood.

That our jealousies and denials and slights of each other have contributed, throughout history, to our own oppression.

Thinking this causes me immense annoyance. And undeniable grief. Until I remember how help sometimes can come from the most unexpected places, the most unlikely people.

And how often the actions of manipulative or cruel women have contributed to the growth of understanding and benevolence in otherwise rather limited individuals.

So that in the long term, who is to say who is good or evil? Who knows how the actions of the kindest and wisest of beings may be used for evil purposes in the end? And vice versa?

Whether for good or ill, one has to act, says the sacred book. I still don't dream of daring to fantasise his body. It takes me years to even dream of him.

Good and evil may be part of a continuum, and ultimately be the same thing. But, I think, that's no excuse for not seeing the difference.

Today she came in wearing an identical shawl to the one I wore over my shoulder. Neither of us has worn the shawl before. My sister sent me mine, from a village she had visited in Kashmir. I was amused by this coincidence, knowing what it meant, although the young woman looked startled.

These things - encountering a person again and again, or finding striking similarities in one's choice of clothing on encountering the other, can indicate an unusually strong psychic connection with the other person. That at least one of the two has a great deal to learn in relation to the other.

She must think about me constantly, living there so quietly with her brute of a husband.

They say his last woman ran away from him, unable to bear the misery he caused her. This one though has nowhere to turn to, and no home to speak of, should she wish to return there.

These are facts everyone knows - they do not move me.

Strange, that he and I should have the same shawl, and choose to wear it today, for the first time! I've had mine for years. It was part of the finery - precious little of it - that I brought here, when I married.

And once before this, on returning from Benares after a visit of several months to my husband's sister, I noticed the pouch he carried. A recent gift or acquisition, the object was identical with the one I had carried for many years, to keep my money safe, tuced into a fold of my garment.