I read Maggie Shipstead‘s previous novel, Seating Arrangements, before I started this blog, but for those of you who read regularly you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I loved it. So when I heard that she had a new novel, Astonish Me, coming out in April, it was marked as must read immediately! I knew that Seating Arrangements for me was going to be a hard act to follow – it was a book that rang all my bells – so could Astonish Me do it?
Well, yes and no. Astonish Me is set in the world of professional ballet. Interesting, but not exactly my thing (Not like a large family wedding on the Cape!). And the overall tone of it was filled with dissatisfaction and melancholy. Again, not my thing. But for all that, I still quite enjoyed it. I’d give it a 3/5 if I did that sort of thing.
The first part of the story really intrigued me. Joan, a professional ballet dancer in New York, helps Arslan defect from the Soviet Union. Overtime, their relationship fizzles and Joan gives up on ballet in order to have a child. She re-unites with her high school sweetheart to facilitate this. From this point on I found the tone of the novel to be rather depressing. Joan does not want to be with Jacob and she does not want to live as a suburban housewife. The storied surrounding Joan in suburbia are also without light.
Who would like this book? You like ballet? You’ll like Astonish Me. I have absolutely no interest or knowledge of ballet, so the detailed descriptions of exercises and routines were lost on me. However, the passion behind pursuing such a lofty dream was not lost on me. From this perspective, Astonish Me is comparable to Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas, a book I loved. For obvious reason, it would also make a good companion to The Painted Girls by Cathy Buchanan (review), another story of ballet.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest and fair review.