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Astonish Me by Maggie ShipsteadA new novel about ballet dancers


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#1 Swanilda8

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Posted 02 May 2014 - 09:17 PM

Has anyone else read Shipstead's new novel about ballet dancers in the 1970s and 80s? The story centers around Joan, a corps dancer who helps a major Soviet ballet star defect, only to be deserted by him a few years later. It follows her and her old colleague, Elaine, as Joan retires from ballet for a different life. I'm only about a third of the way through thus far. The writing is lovely, and the descriptions of characters in Joan's later life are spot-on. However, the parts about the ballet company and Elaine's ongoing life as a performer are just so transparently taken from real NYCB stories (Mr. K = Mr. B, the company=NYCB, Arlsan Rusakov is taken largely from Baryshnikov, with a little Nureyev thrown in). Those sections almost seem like satire to me, but I'm not sure a general readership would read it that way. I'd be interested to hear what other balletAlert posters think about the book.



#2 sandik

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Posted 04 May 2014 - 08:32 PM

I haven't yet read this, but every so often we get a novel or two that is a thinly disguised re-telling of contemporary ballet history.  The last one I recall was a gloss on Alexander Godunov's life. 



#3 dirac

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Posted 05 May 2014 - 09:57 AM

The writing is lovely, and the descriptions of characters in Joan's later life are spot-on. However, the parts about the ballet company and Elaine's ongoing life as a performer are just so transparently taken from real NYCB stories (Mr. K = Mr. B, the company=NYCB, Arlsan Rusakov is taken largely from Baryshnikov, with a little Nureyev thrown in). Those sections almost seem like satire to me, but I'm not sure a general readership would read it that way. 

 

 

Shipstead has said that she based the story loosely on the defection of Baryshnikov and his subsequent career in the West. It  seems reasonable for a work of fiction that takes off from actual ballet events and is aimed at a general readership  to refer to widely known stories or figures – the Soviet defectors, Nijinsky – and the title of the book is of course a nod to Diaghilev.

 

It’s nice to know that it’s well written. If so, that would make two good recent novels derived from real-life ballet events, along with Varley O’Connor’s “The Master’s Muse.”

 

Thank you for telling us your reactions to the book, Swanilda8. I was a bit dubious based on a couple of excerpts I'd seen, but I do intend to read it.




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