Come Dance With Me by Russell Hoban

The veteran rocker
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Russell Hoban publishes his 13th adult novel amid public celebrations of his 80th birthday. Looking back from the comfortable armchair of his late-period comedies, it is easy to forget the entropic darkness, expressed in a degenerated phonetic English, of his post-nuclear dystopia Riddley Walker. A quarter-century later, Come Dance With Me has precious little darkness.

Christabel Alderton is a 54-year-old rocker fronting Mobile Mortuary, a band that can still fill the Hammersmith Apollo. At an exhibition of surrealists she encounters Elias, a 62-year-old diabetologist entranced by her. Shared fondness of Django Reinhardt and German ballads leads to an entanglement, and alarm bells ring for Christabel.

Blokes tend to die on her. Her first husband fell off a wet roof and her abusive stepfather had a fatal stroke; her guitarist boyfriend jumped from the tenth floor and Adam, father of their son Django, had a lighting rig fall on him. Worst of all, Django fell off a Hawai'ian cliff aged four. How Elias copes in ten days with the "Curse of Christabel" gives Hoban his fun.

Come Dance With Me occasionally lapses into contrivance as a casualty of the author's desire to whack the plot along; and his dénouement is armed with its own surreal, bathetic gag. Neither fault seriously undermines this neat entertainment, whose sudden intimacies and preoccupation with death are hedged in from the vertigo of any profound emotion.

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