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Last Updated:  Friday, 14 February, 2003, 11:41 GMT
Pictures save Dahl's words
By James Bregman
BBC News Online

Dahl is the granddaughter of Roald Dahl
Sophie Dahl is one of the world's most famous models and now hopes to find literary success as a writer, publishing her first book.

The prospect of a first novel by a supermodel is rarely something for book-lovers to get excited about.

But Sophie Dahl's debut offering, while hardly a groundbreaking piece of literature, does at least do a fine job of avoiding the obvious pitfalls.

The Man with the Dancing Eyes is barely a novel in the conventional sense, and is quite astonishingly lightweight.

At first glance it looks like a children's book; pictures fill most of the 80 pages, and it takes about 12 minutes to read.

The supermodel-thin plot involves Pierre, a privileged young woman living the high life in London, who is swept off her feet by the eponymous suitor.

The man with the dancing eyes, we're told, "was a painter (a long-limbed, rather brilliant one)...his wooing was legendary and Byronic in style".

The relationship goes awry when the man breaks Pierre's heart, so she goes off to live the high life in New York instead.

That is really all that happens, and it is style, not substance that the book depends heavily upon.

Childhood friend

Dahl's stilted, slightly child-like way of writing takes some getting used to but suits the content well.

Riding to Dahl's rescue are the illustrations, provided by the author's childhood friend Anne Morris.

Not a million miles from the Quentin Blake drawings that used to adorn the work of Dahl's grandfather, Roald, Morris' pictures are perfect for Sophie's writing.

Playful and delightfully surreal, they complement the fairytale atmosphere and emphasise the unabashed triviality of the whole exercise.

The artwork is pivotal, for without Morris'additions, the banal storyline would struggle to be engaging.

Lap up

This is designed to be a feel-good read and absolutely nothing more, and in that sense it succeeds.

Plenty of readers will eagerly lap up this sort of thing, just as ardently as others will be deterred by the superficiality and by the tediously endless references to Pierre's well-heeled lifestyle of leisure.

It is to Dahl's credit that she doesn't take the task too seriously.

The cheerful, confident tone suggests she is aware of the book's limits, and as, presumably, the first of many works to come, The man with the dancing eyes is a cunning choice of debut.

Judging literary ability in something so insubstantial is near-impossible, and for a 23-year-old with such a name to live up to, this distinctly unambitious start looks like a wise move.

The Man with the Dancing Eyes constitutes a competent piece of escapism for undemanding readers.

Really though, it should announce itself as a book by Anne Morris, with words by Sophie Dahl.




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