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May 21, 2005

'Bleedout' — by Joan Brady


A new book by Joan Brady is always for me an occasion for excitement.

This is not the Joan Brady who wrote "God on a Harley" but another, older, far different person.

This Joan Brady began life aspiring to be a ballet dancer and succeeded: she was accepted into George Balanchine's New York City Ballet in 1960 at age 21.

Then began her departure from the beaten track.

In 1963 she married the writer Dexter Masters, a family friend twenty–five years her senior whom she had been in love with since she was a small girl.

This ruptured what was left of her family life since her widowed mother had long regarded Masters as the companion of her own old age.

Her only child, Alexander, was born in 1965 and a year later the family moved to England.

In 1971 they settled in Totnes, Devon, Kent, where Brady lived until very recently.

In 1982 she published a memoir entitled "The Unmaking of a Dancer" ["Prologue" in the U.K.],


considered by many knowledgeable individuals to be among the very best accounts ever of life inside the high–powered, closed circle of world–class ballet.

Her husband became terminally ill in the 1980s and died in 1989.

Her second novel, "Theory of War," was published in 1993 and won the 1993 Whitbread Book of the Year award.

Brady was the first woman ever to have won the award.

In 2000 Brady's District Council granted permission for construction of a shoe factory in a building adjoining the old house she'd lived in since 1971.

She found the noise and fumes intolerable and protested, so much so that the council countersued her and had her indicted.

She found herself in court 15 times over the next two years and abandoned her novel in progress, unable to concentrate on it any longer.

Instead, she began a legal thriller which channeled much of her rage into its story.

This became her latest book, "Bleedout."

It's excellent: original, tight and gripping.

But these qualities are not surprising if you've read Brady's great "Theory of War."


That book tells the story of a four–year–old white American boy sold into slavery soon after the Civil War.

The boy grew up to be Alexander Brady, Joan Brady's grandfather.

Here's a link to a most entertaining and informative March 29, 2005 BBC radio interview with Brady.

Here's a link to an excellent interview with Brady which appeared in the April 8, 2005 Independent.

Brady has left her long–time home in Devon and now lives in Oxford.

From "Bleedout":

    What I had not sensed was that the state of alert that rules a prisoner's life really ought to rule us all. Only because of David's tense vigilance and contempt for the hypocrisy of civilized friendship did I stumble across the saddest rule of human contact, and one that I had always assumed belonged to his world, not to mine: watch your back most carefully when someone you trust steps behind you.


    "Confusion protects money" was another of Professor Flamm's rules.


    It is one thing to visit the panther in the zoo with guards and guns at your command should the ground rules shift in some way that does not suit you. It is altogether another when the panther becomes your daily companion.


    Just as you can tell the quality of a lock picker from the sounds of the work, you can tell professional training from the first move a person makes: fighter, dancer, skater, murderer.


    Uranium is an unstable atom; it's the source of a fission reaction in a bomb, and because of it not even old weapons are safe. You can't destroy them when you don't want them anymore. You can't recycle them either. You can only bury them and hope for the best.


    He leaned against the outside wall — cold stucco finish at his back — and breathed slowly in and out: an old trick to force the nerves into submission. You can't let the adrenaline take over. Lay out the ground before you make your move: what's known, what isn't and what has to be done.

May 21, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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