Published in 2006 by Chronicle Books.
I was seduced, once. Part of that seduction was the gift of the incomparable Griffin and Sabine books, a multilayered, visually arresting collection of the correspondence shared by two extraordinary, magically-linked soulmates. Is it any wonder, then, that my heart skipped a beat when I spied the lushly-presented (Chronicle Books, hardcover) Windflower, nestled between two monotonous bestsellers at my local library? Since catapulting myself headfirst in love with Griffin and Sabine, I’d added everything Nick Bantock has ever written to my must-explore list. This was a book about which I’d been breathlessly excited, so I found a quiet nook of the library, and, Laura Marling crooning whisper-low through my headphones, I lost myself in another of Nick Bantock’s compelling—albeit decidedly less so—creative offerings.
Windflower is Ana’s story. She is a young woman, skilled in the cante jondo, who seeks to restore the life-preserving, nomadic spirit to her people, the Capolan, who have become distressingly landlocked, through choice, over the years. With none of her tribespeople, except her sage grandfather, able to discern that her impending marriage would be disastrous to her future dreams of rejuvenating the Capolan through dance, Ana flees her village. She runs to the seaport town of Serona, in search of Felix Bulerias, the man she’s been told can guide her in her quest to channel the inner fires of her dance. Instead, she encounters four very different men, each intoxicating and mysterious in his own manner. By turns enchanted, perplexed and emboldened by Serona’s exotic wares and compelling figures, and haunted by the dual burden-privilege of her responsibility to her people, can Ana discover herself in her greatest passion of all: her connection to the Eternal Dance?
I could not help but think of the plot progression of a Disney princess title, both as I read Windflower and as I revisit it now. This is not necessarily, perilously a bad thing, but the overall effect is far out of the orbit of my expectations. It isn’t that the novel isn’t good. Indeed, the work feels lovingly hewn in both design and thematic. Bantock has created all of the paintings and drawings that appear, as one continuous footnote-mosaic, in the novel from beginning to end. In the details of these elaborately compiled page-tiles, it is easy enough to discern traces of the artist’s eerily mesmerizing style. Alas, though strange and lovely to behold, nothing of this border-art compelled me beyond a calm appreciation, when what I’d hoped to do was clamour for more. In this case, more of the same would just have produced further demonstrations of cool regard.
To speak further on thematic and content, Bantock has crafted a story that must surely appeal to most, hence the Disney-esque charm, perhaps. There is pleasure in reading of the four men who entrance Ana:
♣ Boreos, a handsome, commanding businessman who incites a fever pitch of lust in Ana, while simultaneously leaving her in doubt of her autonomy in his presence
♣ the chivalrous, middle-aged man of means, Mr. Hamattan, who platonically woos Ana into teaching him the flute, and gets her closest to Felix Bulerias (but at what cost?)
♣ Zephyr, Ana’s animated fellow tenant and fledgling pilot, who lends wings to her spirit, but is unable to reign in his jealous suspicions of her other admirers
♣ Sirocco, the lean, mysterious foreigner who channels passion and purpose into Ana’s cante jondo, but wants her to dance to his beat above all others
Amidst the chasms and crests of her adventures with these four, Ana often turns to the lovely and worldly Halle, who becomes her co-worker, landlady, confidante and adviser. Though she struggles with finding her own voice, which often gets tangled up in the mire of others’ best intentions for her, nothing about our protagonist’s journey struck me as particularly tortuous. At most turns, Ana is surrounded by encouraging friends, a raucous yet pleasant workplace, and a quartet of attractive men vying for her attention.
Bantock does set obstacles in Ana’s path to self-actualization, yes. He does pepper the landscape of her many happy Serona days with doubt and trepidation, but I couldn’t help but think that Ana’s path was much more smoothly-paved than that of the average teenage runaway bride who flees to a city completely unknown to her, in which she knows no one, in which her people are routinely marginalized, in which she is a petite, unaccompanied young woman with a pocketful of dowry coin, ripe for the picking.
It is my expectation of ‘more’ that hinders a glowing review of this fine novel. The story is fine and well-rendered, in language that is fine, and on occasion, ascends to a sublimeness of expression. The resolution of Ana’s fate (and that of her people’s) was fine, in a satisfyingly foreseeable way. This is a fine book, truly, to add to any collection of Nick Bantock’s oeuvre, but I daresay it is not his best.
“No longer governed by her mind, her feet steered her body. The tune was not mournful, though it was melancholy. Never speeding, it gyrated within its solitude. She traced it around and around the rooftop until eventually the rain began to fall more violently and she could no longer hear any music, just water drops striking the tiles. Their staccato beat broke her hypnotic swirl, and she began to dance to the drum of the rain. Faster and faster she whirled until she lifted her face to the clouds and laughed out of sheer pleasure.”