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Sex and Stravinsky - Book of the Month

by Barbara Trapido

Where to begin with this tangled tale? The time is 1995 and the story begins with Caroline and Josh meeting as students in 1970s Oxford, remembered by Josh as the ‘Purple Time’, when everyone dressed in said colour and had too much (dirty) hair. Josh is a dance academic, South African, short and quiet while Caroline is an imposing Australian head-teacher, a wonder woman who, even now in the ‘90s, knits her own muesli, shops in charity shops where she, naturally, finds designer gear and vintage pieces. She scrimps and saves to support her twisted, manipulative mother in order to provide her with a house while Josh, Caroline and daughter Zoe live in the converted double-decker bus they’ve lived in since their student days.

Jump to South Africa where we find Hattie, Hermann and their three offspring living a very comfortable life in a converted colonial house in an elegant suburb. This house is Hattie’s childhood home, which boorish architect Hermann has completely restored and modernised – except for the tower to where the diminutive Hattie escapes to write her ballet stories for girls. Hattie and Josh were childhood sweethearts.

Then Josh flies to South Africa to attend a dance conference and his daughter Zoe gets into a fix on her French exchange programme. Meanwhile a long lost friend of Josh’s family, a semi adopted brother, Jack, appears on the scene. Now there is a collision of catastrophic proportions.

This novel is packed with characters, all hugely interesting in their own right, who come together in a massively unlikely way with more coincidences than a Thomas Hardy novel, partner-swapping of a Woody Allen film and the pathos of Greek tragedy. (As other reviewers have rightly pointed out, Sex and Stravinsky mirror’s the story of the Russian composer’s ballet Pulcinella, but not knowing that ballet I have proposed my own comparisons!).

Barbara Trapido really is a bit of a sorceress. She writes in a beautiful light, sparkly style but her stories contain dark elements and this one is no exception, as she covers apartheid, anorexia and adoption, all wrapped up in a big middle-class cotton-wool ball of self-satisfaction.

Read our interview with Barbara Trapido.

Irene Haynes

Published by Bloomsbury – 303pp.


Josie Swift
Can't wait! Barbara Trapido is one of the unsung heroes of the literary scene - she's funny, a great story-teller and unfailingly skewers the preoccupations of the chattering classes. Thank you for featuring her this month.

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