Monday, 11 February 2013
A rasher sandwich, a mug of tea, a Tunnock's teacake and The Ballroom of Romance ... today's perfect lunchbreak. When Cornflower asked for short story suggestions this morning, I thought of William Trevor's heartbreaking story of loneliness and resignation. The last time I read it was several years ago. Then I remembered how I first came across it when I was working in Ireland and was chatting to an elderly priest who had started a marriage bureau to give rural romances a helping hand. He told me that I should read The Ballroom of Romance ... and so I did. I couldn't remember his name until I googled him and discovered that he died a couple of years ago. But I never forget anyone who recommends a wonderful writer ...
I now realise that long before I read the story, I'd already seen the wonderful TV dramatisation with Brenda Fricker. I've been searching to see if I could find it on YouTube. No such luck but I did find this lovely RTE documentary about the making of the film 30 years ago. (Thirty years ago! It can't be!)
Brenda Fricker was Bridie, the farmer's daughter in her mid-thirties who has been attending The Ballroom of Romance - a dance hall in the middle of nowhere - every Saturday night for more than 20 years. The boy she loved has long ago married a girl from the town and left for England. It is such a bleak story of utter hopelessness. The best chance that is left to Bridie is to marry a decent man whom she doesn't love but on this particular Saturday night she realises that even this poor second best has been lost to another woman.
The bachelors would never marry, the girls of the dance-hall considered: they were wedded already, to stout and whiskey and laziness, to three old mothers somewhere up in the hills.
The evening comes to an end and Bridie knows that she has danced beyond her time, that she will never again dance in The Ballroom of Romance because she has become a figure of fun. She rides home alone. She would wait now and in time Bowser Egan would seek her out because his mother would have died. You know that by the time it happens, she'll be too old to have children with a man she doesn't love, who doesn't love her ... but maybe it is better than being alone?
The first time I read this I remember feeling as if I'd been kicked. And now I need another mug of tea. Incidentally, the story is set in 1971, rather later than you might think. But as William Trevor moved to England in the 1950s, I do wonder if he was writing about an Ireland that, even then, no longer existed? Perhaps not, as that marriage bureau opened in 1968.