Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

Astonish Me by Maggie ShipsteadAstonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
Published by Vintage on January 6, 2015
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.
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five-stars

From the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel "Seating Arrangements," winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize: a gorgeously written, fiercely compelling glimpse into the passionate, political world of professional ballet and its magnetic hold over two generations. "Astonish Me" is the irresistible story of Joan, a ballerina whose life has been shaped by her relationship with the world-famous dancer Arslan Ruskov, whom she helps defect from the Soviet Union to the United States. While Arslan's career takes off in New York, Joan's slowly declines, ending when she becomes pregnant and decides to marry her longtime admirer, a PhD student named Jacob. As the years pass, Joan settles into her new life in California, teaching dance and watching her son, Harry, become a ballet prodigy himself. But when Harry's success brings him into close contact with Arslan, explosive secrets are revealed that shatter the delicate balance Joan has struck between her past and present. In graceful, inimitable prose, Shipstead draws us into an extraordinary world, and the lives of her vivid and tempestuous characters. Filled with intrigue, brilliant satire, and emotional nuance, "Astonish Me" is a superlative follow-up to Shipstead's superb debut.

 

Astonish Me is the story of Joan, an American dancer who helps a Soviet ballet star defect. Joan is a very good dancer, but she will never be a soloist. She eventually leaves the world of ballet, marries, has a child and a new life. Years later, Joan finds herself faced with the world she left behind when she recognizes a rare, exceptional talent in her son.

This was my first encounter with Maggie Shipstead’s writing, and I was captivated from the very first page. Her writing is simply stunning. I savored every word, and I didn’t want to put the book down. These characters are flawed, their lives complicated, and the connections between them confusing and messy. Yet Shipstead created characters I loved and became fully invested in.

There was a “twist” near the end – more of a cliché, really – that I saw coming for most of the book. I was so disappointed when it finally turned up… I’d held out hope that I’d be wrong. But my disappointment was short lived: I wasn’t at the end of the book yet! Shipstead took that cliché and put her own spin on it. The tension and my conflicting emotions had my stomach in knots and took my breath away. From that moment until the last page, I simultaneously wanted to throw the book across the room and hug it.

What a phenomenal reading experience. I can’t wait to read more by Maggie Shipstead.

five-stars