Violet Hetherington is crossing the Atlantic on a cruise ship to New York, to visit Edwin, once a close friend whom she has not seen for over twenty years. Edwin is now a successful poet and knew Violet in the days when she enjoyed a brief spell as H.V. St John, whose bittersweet poetry won her fame and prizes. Over the period of the six day transatlantic crossing, we learn about Violet's past, her complex friendship with Edwin and the error that led to her abandoning a creative career for the safety of domesticity. As we travel backwards into her past, we observe, through the prism of Violet's shrewd and melancholy intelligence, the rich mix of other passengers who are travelling with her to a new world. And we meet Dino (aka Des) whose motives in befriending Violet are murky, but whose lessons in ballroom dancing release in her an unexpected and vital new fund of life.
Written with a characteristically light and fluid touch, Dancing Backwards touches on many of the themes of Salley Vickers' acclaimed novels - the trauma of loss, the power of memory, the allure of the past and the capacity of human nature, against expectation, to survive disappointment and be restored and renewed.