Dance books are my thing! I’m an uncoordinated klutz but books about ballet just drawn me in like a moth to a naked flame. So when I saw the theme of this book was about a ballerina, I was one-clicking as fast at that mouse would go!Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on April 8th 2014
Genres: Dance, Family Life, Realistic Fiction, Social Issues
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Astonish Me is the irresistible story of Joan, a young American dancer who helps a Soviet ballet star, the great Arslan Rusakov, defect in 1975. A flash of fame and a passionate love affair follow, but Joan knows that, onstage and off, she is destined to remain in the background.
She will never possess Arslan, and she will never be a prima ballerina. She will rise no higher than the corps, one dancer among many. After her relationship with Arslan sours, Joan plots to make a new life for herself. She quits ballet, marries a good man, and settles in California with him and their son, Harry.
But as the years pass, Joan comes to understand that ballet isn’t finished with her yet, for there is no mistaking that Harry is a prodigy. Through Harry, Joan is pulled back into a world she thought she’d left behind—back into dangerous secrets, and back, inevitably, to Arslan.
First Line of Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead:
“In the wings, behind a metal rack crowded with bundles of cable and silk flower garlands and stringless lutes from act 1, two black dashhunds lie in a basket.”
My Thoughts on Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
Initially I loved it. It was set firmly in the ballet world with that heady mix of romantic ballets and the harsh reality of manky feet and pissed off ballerinas. I love books that capture both of those as what you see at a ballet performance is so far removed from the realities behind the scenes. The graceful moves and slim frames you see on stage are only a front for endless work, probable eating disorders and often a restricted diet of cocaine to maintain that body
I also really enjoyed that Joan is a member of the corps. Most other books that I’ve read feature an insanely talented prima ballerina who succeeds after x amount of setbacks. This one was different. Joan worked and worked and worked but at the end of the day just wasn’t good enough. And she knows it. I could feel the disappointment that this caused her when she accepted the futility of it all.
“It’s like there’s an empty space in the world that was meant for me, but I can’t get inside. I can just bang on the outside.”
There is also a side story going on with Arslan, the Russian ballet dancer that she has helped to defect. I haven’t read a lot of books with this storyline and it’s such a huge part of the ballet world during the 60s and 70s that it’s interesting to get a glimpse at how it happened. But poor Joan! Not only does her lack of talent ruin her longed for ballet career, it also ruins her love life as Arslan can’t accept anything less than perfection. The romance was gritty, ugly and bleak.
I loved the early part of the book and the flashbacks to Joan’s ballet life. However a lot of the book focuses on Joan’s life after she left all that behind. I wasn’t quite so invested in that and the plot fell a little flat for me then. And I lost empathy with Joan, yes she had her dreams shattered but she turned into a bit of a mouse after that. Her lack of drive and focus infuriated me a bit.
Overall I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. It wasn’t all I hoped for but it was still an insightful and engaging read.
|Did I feel it?|
Who should read Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead?
I’d recommend this to those that like literary fiction, ballet world settings and characters that face lots of challenges.