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A damaged family and their generations of dangerous secrets

A damaged family and their generations of dangerous secrets

At twenty, Sara is tormented by terror so profound she hasn’t left her home in five years. Like the mermaid in the fairytale her Spanish grandmother once told her, Sara imagines she is dancing on knives. She feels suffocated by her family, especially her father – the famous artist Augusto Sanchez – whose volcanic passions dominate their lives.

Then one stormy night, her father does not come home. His body is found dangling from a cliff face. Astonishingly, he is still alive, but the mystery of his fall can only be solved by the revelation of long-held family secrets.

At once a suspenseful murder mystery and a lyrical love story, Dancing on Knives is about how family can constrict and liberate us, how art can be both joyous and destructive, and how strength can be found in the unlikeliest places.


The metaphor that holds this decidedly atmospheric novel together is that of the Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. In this cruel fairytale, the Little Mermaid may have the young Prince but the price she pays is horrific – she will be able to walk but every step she takes will be like ‘‘stepping on sharp knives’’ and her tongue is also cut out. Such is the price she must pay for love. Implicit here is the pain that the novel’s heroine must carry as she tries to overcome the pervading fears that haunt her life. I really enjoy the fact that Kate Forsyth can take a contemporary Australian setting, a dairy farm on the NSW coast with an old family home on it, and turn it into a world of seething passions, intense mystery, romance, magic and – let’s not forget – a murder or two. First written when Forsyth was 16, Dancing on Knives has been revised several times. And although the novel has been smoothed out, it still retains the instinctive protectiveness the author feels for her tender and oh-so-vulnerable heroine.

Dianne Dempsey, The Sydney Morning Herald

A surprising combination of family drama, murder mystery and love story. Lyrical and exhilarating. Sara’s journey is striking as she faces her fears and moves on; she is a heroine of the modern order.

Johanna de Wever, Australian Book Review

Family saga, fable and whodunit all rolled into a vivid and lyrical whole.

Elizabeth Knox

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Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback


    June 2, 2014

    Vintage Australia

    304 pages

    RRP $32.99

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  • EBook


    June 2, 2014

    Random House Australia

    320 pages

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