Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

astonish-meI 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.


  1. I see how the tone of the book could’ve ruined it for you. Without those light moments sometimes a novel gets completely dragged down.
    I totally missed Seating Arrangements last year and have been meaning to read it! But then I listened to a Literary Disco podcast on the book and I got second thoughts. You have me crawling back to it though, with how much you loved it!

  2. Yeah, Literary Disco didn’t like it very much. But i liked it for all the reasons they hated it. It portrays what I imagine a stereotyped and satirical look at a weekend at the Cape might look like. It’s a world i don’t know, so I bought in hook, line and sinker.

  3. Being a bit of a ballet nerd, this was a huge win for me. I really really want to pick up Seating Arrangements now, though. I’ve heard great things and now that I’ve got a taste of Shipstead’s style, I’m totally sold!

  4. Dangit! This review didn’t help me at all πŸ™‚ I love dance, but I often find novels about dancing to be either light & fluffy or just plain boring. Sounds like this one was neither, and I like what you said about relating to the passion of pursuing a dream. However, I’m bad with books that are overly melancholy. I’m just never going to decide about whether or not to read this book! πŸ™‚

  5. Pingback: Cover Wars: Astonish Me | 52 books or bust

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s