The Man with the Dancing Eyes by Sophie Dahl

by Nikki Tranter

10 June 2003


Pretty Talented

A supermodel writing a book sounds almost as plausible as a dog blowing up a balloon. Dogs can’t blow up balloons but supermodels apparently can write books. Some supermodels have done it badly (Naomi Campbell, for example), some not-so-badly (Janice Dickinson) and others have even managed to make a second career out of it (Tara Moss), but what exactly is it that makes us roll our eyes at the thought of women who make their livings wearing clothes suddenly turning their hand to the literary arts? The same thought, pretty much, that we have when actors or rock stars do the very same thing—because writing is for smart people, not pretty people!

Snobbery aside, with the release of Sophie Dahl’s The Man with the Dancing Eyes, it’s again time to judge a writer based on her beauty. But with Dahl, comes a few unexpected complications. Though she may be famous for her Victorian face, cherubic figure and skyscraper long legs, she’s also got a mega-famous last name as well—one that affords her a teeny-tiny chance to actually be any good.

cover art

The Man With Dancing Eyes

Sophie Dahl

(Bloomsbury USA)

Dahl’s grandfather is none other than Roald Dahl, who’s quirky outlook on life and devilish sense of humor gave the world Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits and James and the Giant Peach. Her mother is children’s author Tessa Dahl, more famous for her dalliances with the likes of Peter Sellers and Bryan Ferry than for her literary accomplishments, so along with Sophie comes a wealth of history.

Famously close with her granddad (who named the main character in his book, The BFG, after her), Sophie has said she always wanted to be a writer and accidentally fell into modeling at a friend’s behest. The model, most famous for her nude pose advertising Yves Saint-Laurent’s Opium perfume, even lists Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and Dylan Thomas among her favorite authors.

With all this accompanying her name wherever she goes of late, Sophie’s darn lucky she actually has talent as a writer, because it would be so easy to send her packing back to the catwalk should she (like Campbell) absolutely stink. She doesn’t, and her book is a charming little fairytale about love in the modern world, told with a poetic, old-fashioned voice, which manages to capture and allure throughout its sparsely filled 74 pages.

Dahl’s protagonist is Pierre, a sweet girl living on a London houseboat who spends her days working in a used bookstore and dreaming about the perfect love. Her dream becomes reality one day when she is tapped on the shoulder by an intriguing artist who sweeps her off her Christian Louboutin heels into a dance of romance as he wines her, dines her and makes her feel necessary by making her his muse.

“But to be a muse is a dangerous thing,” Dahl warns, as Pierre soon bores of her new found position as someone to be created and recreated on canvas. She suddenly feels a convenience rather than a partner and skips off to the bright lights of New York City, leaving behind her job, her friends and her suitor to find herself. Soon, though, Pierre learns that her decision may have been a little hasty and she quickly finds she’s again longing to be needed.

Dahl’s story is excruciatingly simple, so much so that she has been mocked for her undeveloped characters and tired plot. It’s just this simplicity, though, that gives the story its charm, and indeed, gives Sophie her leg up in the celeb-author game. Dahl has not gone out with this book to prove herself to any detractors, or certainly to make friends among the literary elite. Instead, she’s done something far more daring with a tale entirely free of prophetic phrases or any attempt to sound far smarter and more dignified than a runway career should allow, taking the ballsy route by presenting easily accessible characters in an uncomplicated rehashing of the girl-meets-boy, girl-loses-boy, girl-gets-boy-back theme.

While it’s true Dahl brings little innovation to the theme, what she lacks in originality she makes up for with glorious dialogue and witty narration:

[Pierre’s boss] Mr Beany was wildly disapproving as a pair of lovebirds, followed by sea-horses, interspersed with a great trail of sweetpeas, swept into the shop. “This is a book shop, not a fecking ark,” he exclaimed hotly. Pierre shrugged hotly as Mr Beany began to laugh, and surrendered to the feeling of being swept away by something much bigger than she.”


Pierre was whisked uptown in a taxi at breakneck speed, the Ella Fitzgerald song that she had danced to at Mr Beaney’s party playing loudly, promptly followed by a loud rendition of “I Want You”.

How very curious, Pierre thought, looking at the driver suspiciously.

“I hope you have someone’s love to keep you warm,” said the driver as she got out.

“Yes,” replied Pierre crisply. “My dog’s. Goodbye.”

Dahl’s book acts not a career turning point, set to shock us book snobs into submission, and she knows it. Instead, it’s more of a precursor to something far greater. Dahl’s prose and delicate characterization in this book show true promise, that one day the girl who accidentally became one of the world’s most recognizable beauties will make her granddaddy proud.

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