The Ballerinas, a review by Amy

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The Ballerinas
Rachel Kapelke-Dale
304 pages
St. Martin’s Press

A ballet is refined and beautiful. It’s an exquisite art form polished to perfection. But behind the scenes, it looks much more dour, and I’m not talking about the ballerina’s bruised and battered feet. It’s an insular world built on competition, jealousy, and dark ambition. The only way to the top is at the expense of fellow competitors.

Delphine, Lindsey, and Margeaux quickly bond during their training at the Paris Opera Ballet. Although friends, they are competitors first and foremost. The novel unfolds in two parts. One moves from teen years forward following their training and bond through the trials of preparation, as each aspires to become the next star. The other follows the three in differing stages of adult life, suddenly thrust back together on the same stage. It’s obvious that the years have not been kind to the friendship. The mystery of what transpired to create the shift unfolds slowly and steadily.

Kapelke-Dale does an adept job of showcasing the cutthroat nature experienced behind the curtain. Perfect pirouettes begin out of destruction and determination. The training, dedication, and competition that goes into the most graceful arabesque is well examined through the three main characters. As someone who has enjoyed the beauty of the stage, I was equally enamored by this novel’s look at the inner workings that companies and dancers go through to get to the stage worthy point.

Up until the half point of the novel, it appeared the author’s messaging was in regard to the tumult women suffer in order to get ahead. But at the half way mark, the messaging seemed to shift to that of misogyny and patriarchy, with strong “Me too” vibes. As much as I appreciate the exploration of the multiple themes and consider them timely and necessary, I didn’t feel as though the storyline had enough depth with which to properly discern each issue brought forth. To me, the continual addition of a new component within the many themes muddled the overall message.

Though not an upbeat read, I do not think the comparison being drawn between this book and Black Swan is accurate. Not only is this book not as dark as Black Swan, it also doesn’t hit the mark of a true thriller. Instead, The Ballerinas lends itself more closely to character driven women’s fiction.

Thank you Rachel Kapelke-Dale, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review an advanced copy of this book.


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