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Reviews of The Dance of the Dolls by Lucy Ashe

The Dance of the Dolls

by Lucy Ashe

The Dance of the Dolls by Lucy Ashe X
The Dance of the Dolls by Lucy Ashe
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2023, 352 pages

    Paperback:
    Sep 10, 2024, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Maria Katsulos
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About this Book

Book Summary

A novel about obsessive love featuring two ballet dancers—identical twin sisters Olivia and Clara Marionetta—with a terrifying climax set in the world of ballet in pre-war London.

The Dance of the Dolls tells the story of identical twin ballerinas rehearsing for Coppélia at the recently opened Sadler's Wells Theatre. Superficially, even their differences are complementary: Olivia aspires to be the perfect ballerina while Clara is rebellious and independent. Clara takes up a relationship with the bohemian and passionate Nathan, a pianist at the theater. Meanwhile, Olivia is unaware that she has cast a spell on another frequent visitor to Sadler's Wells: Samuel, a bashful apprentice ballet shoemaker who steals into the building as often as he can to watch her dance.

But as the sisters rehearse, danger lurks. The story of Coppélia and the dancing doll threatens to become a dark and sinister reality. Olivia becomes jealous of Nathan's adoration of Clara, while Clara discovers that being adored can feel suffocating. Samuel dreams of being recognized by Olivia and wonders how far he would go to achieve his goal, while Nathan, a musical child prodigy, struggles to adapt to adulthood and begins to blur the lines between reality and his dark fantasy world ...

CHAPTER 2

OLIVIA

I look for luck everywhere. Today, I need to calm my nerves, soothe the anx­i­eties that keep jumping to the front of my mind, refusing to be kept at bay. My porridge stares at me this morning; I can't eat it. It would be unlucky, a curse, to fill my belly with such ordinary, heavy-­looking food. Today I need to shine.

We are all superstitious. We thrive on routines and good luck charms. They give us certainty, focus the mind, take us to a magical place where we can leave the real world and become the dancing apparitions the audience want us to be. We need our muse, our Terpsichore, to lead us onto the stage. Changing our names was the first step. Clara and I used to be plain old Olivia and Clara Smith. But we changed it to Marionetta when we left ballet school and ascended to the ranks of the com­pany, joining Miss de Valois at her brand-­new Vic­-Wells ballet company, rebranding ourselves to match. It was our mother's idea to take her ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. Clara and Olivia are identical twin sisters and some characters struggle to tell them apart. They are also ballet dancers, working every day on a discipline that expects each dancer in the corps de ballet to move as one—identical mirror images of each other. What did you think were the differences between the two sisters? And in what ways were they similar? Did their differences get in the way of their relationship and their love for each another?
  2. The twin sisters have very different motivations and desires. How did the way you related to each of them differ? Was there one sister you found yourself drawn to more than the other?
  3. Samuel, the pointe shoemaker apprentice, is obsessed with Olivia. However, his feelings for her change...
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Reviews

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BookBrowse

Much of the story occurs in a tight space of time — though the book itself stretches through several months, the action on the page concentrates on the same performances, the same parties, and even the same conversations between characters' chapters. This makes it somewhat confusing to follow the plot, as the thread becomes tangled and readers see the same situations playing out repeatedly. Regardless of any confusion brought on by multiple narrators, each point-of-view character is more than strong enough to hold their own. In fact, there are other characters whose points of view are not explicitly written — including some borrowed from history to outfit the novel — but whose presences are so compelling that Ashe could certainly write more from their perspectives...continued

Full Review Members Only (772 words)

(Reviewed by Maria Katsulos).

Media Reviews

The Times (UK)
Ashe trained with the Royal Ballet School, and she is fascinating on the detail of the girls' lives; on the pain and the bloodied feet that underpin the perfection of the dance, on, as Samuel says, 'this mad life you all live, always on the edge of pain and exhaustion.' A wonderful, eye-opening debut.

Plays to See
This original and exquisitely written novel is a highly accomplished debut.

Daily Mail (UK)
[An] unsettling tale... . As the story follows the rehearsals for the ballet Coppélia, we receive a quick-fire education on how the ballet works and why it inspires obsession... . An original thriller with a crafty plot."

Historical Novel Review
A clever thriller ... the characters are compelling. Take a bow, Ms. Ashe.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Ashe's persuasive behind-the-scenes ballet sections lend heft and authenticity to what could otherwise be mere window dressing, and she transitions her narrative from charming slice of historical fiction to pulse-pounding suspense at an expert pace. It's a fiercely memorable debut from a writer to watch.

Booklist
Historical-novel fans as well as those who enjoy a bit of gothic intrigue will appreciate this story.

Library Journal
Ashe, a former ballet dancer, eloquently describes the world of ballet and presents memorable, well-rounded characters in her first novel...Based on the real ballet scene in prewar London, this immersive tale will be a delight for historical-fiction fans who like a touch of suspense.

Reader Reviews

Ansh

It is good I feel good when I read it
It is good; I feel good when I read it.
BookwormBecky

Ballet thriller!
Superstitious , artifacts, resentful… A giveaway win from @jordys.book.club. So exciting! Thank you! 19yo identical twins Olivia and Clara “Marionetta” (née Smith) are both ballerinas dancing for the Vic-Wells Ballet in 1933 London. A ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Beginnings of British Ballet

Black-and-white photo of Ninette de Valois, c. early 1920s Lucy Ashe's The Dance of the Dolls is populated by historical figures whose presence in the fictional narrative enmeshes the story within the real history of British ballet. Long associated with the royal courts of France and Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries, the art form only became established in Britain in the early 20th century. Ballet in Britain was influenced not only by French and Italian styles but also greatly impacted by Russian ballet and dancers fleeing the Revolution and Soviet Union. For example, in Ashe's novel, main character Olivia notes the importance of Nicholas Sergeyev, former choreographer for the Imperial Ballet in Russia. Sergeyev successfully smuggled notated sections of over 20 ballets out of Russia, ...

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