Source: Review copy
Publication: 2nd February 2023 from Magpie
My thanks to Magpie and Random Things Tours for an advance copy for review
“Surely you would like to be immortalised in art, fixed forever in perfection?”
Sadler’s Wells, 1933.
I would kill to dance like her.
Disciplined and dedicated, Olivia is the perfect ballerina. But no matter how hard she works, she can never match identical twin Clara’s charm.
I would kill to be with her.
As rehearsals intensify for the ballet Coppélia, the girls feel increasingly like they are being watched. And, as infatuation turns to obsession, everything begins to unravel.
Lucy Ashe’s novel is set in the world of ballet in 1930’s London. It was an exciting time for anyone interested in this art form. It was the beginning of something extraordinary – the leadership of two women combining the might of the Old Vic and its formidable leader, Lilian Baylis who had been presenting accessibly priced drama and opera and Ninette de Valois, who ran her ballet school with the Vic while Bayliss brought her plans for Sadler’s Wells to fruition.
Lucy Ashe’s novel captures the atmosphere of excitement so well, populating her book with historical authenticity and with the names that went on to become so famous in this artistic world. I particularly enjoyed the introduction of the young Margot Fonteyn.
Clara and Olivia are identical twins, at least in appearance. They are in the corps de ballet and working on a production of Coppelia. Though the girls look identical, their personalities are a little different. Growing up, the girls have had to rely on each other and so are close. Clara is stepping out with pianist Nathan. Once a child prodigy, he now works at the ballet as a musician. Olivia has an admirer, too, albeit a silent one. Samuels‘s work brings him to the ballet regularly and he lives for the moments when he can see his favourite ballerina.
Lucy Ashe’s book brings us into the artistic world of ballet which means dedication, brutally hard work and single minded focus. It is what Olivia lives for, though Clara finds that her ambitions are a little broader. We get to know Clara and Olivia and to understand more about the different facets of their personalities and what they really care about. We also find out more about some of those whose work is indispensable to the ballet company and without whom there would be no dancing. Clara and Olivia has characters we can empathise with and whom we want to succeed, as well as some who feel decidedly cold and dangerously worrying.
I really enjoyed how Lucy Ashe did not fall into the clichéd trap that twins in novels can so often depict. This book is much more subtle and nuanced than that and it is the contrasting wishes of both these girls that are part of what’s important in this story. Instead Ashe focuses on artistic rigour, on theatrical superstition and on the thin line between artistic ego and obsession.
This produces a beautifully observed, authentic feel to the ballet elements of this story alongside a dark and fractured personality that brings an undercurrent of tension and fear to an excellent read.
Verdict: There is darkness, mystery and romance in this tense psychological thriller, alongside beauty, musicality and a little madness – just like the ballet. I really enjoyed this excellent read.
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Lucy Ashe trained at the Royal Ballet School for eight years, first as a Junior Associate and then at White Lodge. She has a diploma in dance teaching with the British Ballet Organisation. She decided to go to university to read English Literature at St Hugh’s College, Oxford (MA Oxon), while continuing to dance and perform. She then took a PGCE teaching qualification and became a teacher. She currently teaches English at Harrow School, an all-boys boarding school in North London. Her poetry and short stories have been published in a number of literary journals and she was shortlisted for the 2020 Impress Prize for New Writers. She also reviews theatre, in particular ballet, writing for the website Playstosee.com.