Source: Review copy
Publication: 1st April 2021 from Hodder & Stoughton
My thanks to the publisher for an opportunity to review
Swan Lake is divided into the black acts and the white acts. The Prince is on stage for most of the ballet, but it’s the swans audiences flock to see. In early productions, Odette and Odile were performed by two different dancers. These days, it is usual for the same dancer to play both roles. Because of the faultless ballet technique required to master the steps, and the emotional range needed to perform both the virginal Odette and the dark, seductive Odile, this challenging dual role is one of the most coveted in all ballet. Dancers would kill for the part.
Ava Kirilova has reached the very top of her profession. After years and years of hard graft, pain and sacrifice as part of the London Russian Ballet Company, allowing nothing else to distract her, she is finally the poster girl for Swan Lake. Even Mr K – her father, and the intense, terrifying director of the company – can find no fault. Ava has pushed herself ahead of countless other talented, hardworking girls, and they are all watching her now.
But there is someone who really wants to see Ava fall . . .
This is a fabulous book. A tour de force. Erin Kelly’s book caught me up in the ballet dancers’ world and never let go once. The precision and expertise of her writing brought me inside the London Russian Ballet Theatre where its autocratic director Nikolai Kirilov is determined that his dancers shall follow his choreography without exception. Here there is only his way. No room for personality, no room for distractions. His dancers shall give their all and if they fail to do so they are gone without compunction.
Kirilov is no hypocrite, either. His exacting standards apply to his daughter Ava, just as they do to the youngest ballerina in the corps. Ava is about to take on the role of her life. She will play Odile and Odette in Kirilov’s production of Swan Lake which will tour only the biggest theatres across the world. It is a role for which she has trained since her earliest years and she is ready. Lucas, her dance partner will play the Prince but everyone understands that the audience will only have their eyes on her.
The pressure is intense and Kirilov’s expectations sky high. It’s felt by everyone in the company and when one dancer whose part is very small but significant, fails to meet those expectations, another is immediately drafted in.
Then one night everything changes. The black feathers from Odette’s costume begin to fall to the floor and that’s the recurring motif for this astounding, unexpected story.
There’s not a great deal of sympathy can be evoked for many of the characters at the beginning if this novel. Some are intensely unlikeable, living in a hothouse atmosphere where ambition is respected and that drive is what keeps the dancers going. There’s no room here for sentiment or even much friendship; it’s all rivalry and fighting the way to the top by being as competitive as possible.
But when tragedy strikes, everything changes.
I saw Margot Fonteyn dance these dual roles when I was young and I have never forgotten it. The pain, emotion and intensity stays with you and I know this book will stay with me for similar reasons.
This is a story told from three perspectives. Ava, Juliet a young dancer and a man named Roman. Without the reader really noticing, Kelly reveals that everything you thought you knew is perhaps not quite as it seemed. She does this so cleverly, so discreetly that it is as if her sleight of hand has lulled the reader into a false sense of assurance.
Watch Her Fall is an intense, dramatic and highly emotive experience. Kelly explores themes of love and loss; of dedication and duty and of what family really means. There is exploration of moral and ethical choices. Her characters become real, wrapping you in their expectations, in their highs and so you feel it acutely when the lows come. Alongside this, Erin Kelly weaves in psychological suspense, deceit, intrigue, betrayal and some quite shocking violence.
Verdict: I love this book and give it my highest recommendation. You really will be missing out if you don’t read it.
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Erin Kelly is the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Poison Tree, The Sick Rose, The Burning Air, The Ties That Bind, He Said/She Said, Stone Mothers and Broadchurch: The Novel, inspired by the mega-hit TV series. In 2013, The Poison Tree became a major ITV drama and was a Richard & Judy Summer Read in 2011. He Said/She Said spent six weeks in the top ten in both hardback and paperback, was longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier crime novel of the year award, and selected for both the Simon Mayo Radio 2 and Richard & Judy Book Clubs. She has worked as a freelance journalist since 1998 and written for the Guardian, The Sunday Times, Daily Mail, New Statesman, Red, Elle, Cosmopolitan and The Pool. Born in London in 1976, she lives in north London with her husband and daughters. erinkelly.co.uk twitter.com/mserinkelly