Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your email address or mobile phone number.
Astonish Me: A novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 8, 2014
|New from||Used from|
Frequently Bought Together
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
An Amazon Best Book of the Month, April 2014: “Etonnez-moi (astonish me)!”--was the great ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev’s command to his collaborators and dancers, and it’s just what this insistent, subtle novel did to me. A confession: I may have been the only reviewer who was not blown away by Maggie Shipstead's best-selling debut, Seating Arrangements. So this sophisticated, intelligent novel was an astonishing discovery. On one level, it tells a straightforward story, of a young woman in the 1970s who fought her way into the professional ballet world, helped her Russian dancer/sort-of boyfriend defect, and then left the ballet, married a “civilian” and raised a son who turned out to be ballet-obsessed. But it’s also an insistent and deft look at passion and art, a book about growing up and facing your limits and getting on with life. That it’s set in the dance world--an irresistible venue even for those of us who performed neither toe nor tap--is just the bonus to a novel that already hit the jackpot. --Sara Nelson
More About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
This is the story of two good friends and professional ballerinas, Elaine, whose talent cries "prima!" and Joan, who knows her talent will never take her beyond the corps de ballet, then discovers she can't even remain there, as she has become pregnant by the company's famous Russian emigre male star, and must dash home to Chicago and marry an old beau lickety split before he even thinks to question whether he's the father. The ballerinas' friendship continues as their worlds divide, with Elaine in prima roles in New York and, with age, moving on to teaching others with prima potential, while Joan, in Southern California, lives a life of suburban wife, mother and part-time teacher of ballet basics to children--foremost among them her own son, whose amazing talent will, one of these days, probably soon, attract world attention, threaten to upset the biological apple cart and destroy Joan's marriage. What to do?
Ms. Shipstead has a most unusual and frequently un-chronological way of telling this story, which opens in 1978, closes in 1973 and, in between, covers the years from 1973 to 2002, with each chapter headed by a different month and year and city. This took some getting used to--but once I got the hang of it, it was well worth it.
But this is also what fascinated me. Astonish Me is the story of a professional dancer who falls madly in love with another dancer and, sadly, finds that she simply does not measure up in either her chosen career or in her lover's eyes. As so happens in life, she ends up not where she expected. In her case, as a homemaker and mother who teaches ballet on the side, while her closest friend continues practicing ballet.
The years pass, as they are wont to do, and her son grows to be a ballet dancer of the highest caliber and this provides one of the catalysts for the novel, along with her friendships, marriage, etc....and how all of this is tied to the choices she made. If this sounds very character driven, it is. But Shipstead off-sets this with a very fascinating look at the inside world of ballet. As I stated at the beginning of this review, I am in no way familiar with this world so I have absolutely no idea how authentic the details of this novel are, but that said, they were quite riveting for my mileage.
Joan Joyce is a dancer in the corps of a Paris dance troupe when she meets Arslan Rusakov, a star Russian ballet dancer. She is in immediate awe and passionate love with him and impulsively throws herself at him but he has to return to Russia. She auditions for a New York City dance troupe and is accepted. She realizes, however, that she will never be good enough to be a soloist and this eats her up. She knows she will be relegated to the corps forever. She works hard to help Arslan defect from Russia and the plan is successful. For a while they are together but eventually he leaves her for a star dancer named Ludmilla.
Joan marries a childhood love named Jacob and makes a home in southern California where she teaches ballet. She is pregnant when she and Jacob marry and they have a son named Harry who becomes a fine ballet dancer. Interestingly, Harry is obsessed with Arslan and watches his videos incessantly with his mother. He also is in love with Chloe, his next door neighbor who is studying ballet with Joan and shows great promise.
The story is predictable and the writing is somewhat vacuous. The characters are developed fairly well but something is lacking. The parts about ballet are the best part of the book. I found myself annoyed with the writing style and wished it had greater depth. I guessed the ending immediately and there was no suspense. Perhaps this is what the author intended, but I'm not sure. All in all, I can't recommend this book with much enthusiasm.
Joan and Elaine aspired to become the leads in New York's ballet scene. Pregnancy interrupts Joan's career. She keeps the baby. Elaine keeps aspiring, sacrificing a normal life for a dancer's life. And though Joan loves her baby, Harry, she is not so sure she loves her husband, Jacob. She knows she misses ballet, its regimen, its "otherness."
Years pass. Elaine grows as a dancer. Joan grows less tolerant of her husband's foibles, her neighbor's incessant ignorance, and her new role as a ballet teacher.
More years pass. The neighbor's child is now her student, an odd, not naturally gifted girl. That her own son seems possessed by the girl is a worry to Joan. Jacob writes the new interest off as hormones.
Things get very complicated as Harry turns to ballet, which makes him a target for anti-gay remarks from every corner. Hugely talented, the stereotype doesn't faze him. He allows himself to pick up Elaine's passion for ballet and her quest for stardom. His own mother prefers that he serve his time in the ranks.
Everything comes to light towards the end of the novel (as it should); The book is strong on character and emotion. The plotting came as me slowly, picking up its pace almost too quickly at the end. For anyone outside ballet, a glossary of terms would have been helpful.
Shipstead captures the sounds, smells, and discipline of the dancer's life without fudging about the negative: the eating disorders, the drugs, and again, for men, the stereotype of the gay dancer; for women, the horror of growing either old or "fat" or both.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It was alright if you're looking for a quick read involving ballet. Semi entertaining.Published 2 days ago by D. Caven
Not at all what I was thinking it would be. First off, the cover is a complete fraud as it literally spends about 5 pages in Paris and the rest is California. Read morePublished 4 days ago by Zoe Alexandra
There was something slow and languid about reading this, that reminded me of dancers stretching just like in the book. Read morePublished 4 days ago by A. Murphy
pretty boring and predictable, would classify as a 'beach read'Published 25 days ago by Amazon Customer
I really enjoyed this read...makes you think about your relationships and what makes them important.Published 2 months ago by LET
I quit reading after a few chapters because of the flat dialogue and lack-luster story telling! The storyline sounded great; perhaps that person should have written the book!Published 2 months ago by Lisa J-Z
Very well written novel with lots of twists. Love the character development.Published 2 months ago by Deirdre E. Purdy