Title: The Ballerinas
Author: Rachel Kapelke-Dale
Narrators: Ell Potter
Length: 13 hours (304 pages)
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; Macmillan Audio
Release Date: December 7, 2021
Recommended for fans of: ballet
Content Warnings: medical trauma domestic abuse, cancer, abortion, infertility, miscarriage, sexual assault, toxic relationships
Dare Me meets Black Swan and Luckiest Girl Alive in a captivating, voice-driven debut novel about a trio of ballerinas who meet as students at the Paris Opera Ballet School.
Fourteen years ago, Delphine abandoned her prestigious soloist spot at the Paris Opera Ballet for a new life in St. Petersburg––taking with her a secret that could upend the lives of her best friends, fellow dancers Lindsay and Margaux. Now 36 years old, Delphine has returned to her former home and to the legendary Palais Garnier Opera House, to choreograph the ballet that will kickstart the next phase of her career––and, she hopes, finally make things right with her former friends. But Delphine quickly discovers that things have changed while she’s been away…and some secrets can’t stay buried forever.
Moving between the trio’s adolescent years and the present day, The Ballerinas explores the complexities of female friendship, the dark drive towards physical perfection in the name of artistic expression, the double-edged sword of ambition and passion, and the sublimated rage that so many women hold inside––all culminating in a twist you won’t see coming, with magnetic characters you won’t soon forget.
This was a book club pick, and everyone in my book club felt conflicted about this book, giving it between 2 and 3 stars. I was instantly sucked into the world of the Paris Opera Ballet. As a former dancer (although not at this level), I could relate to the high expectations, competition, and toxic environment. My favorite parts of this book gave an inside look at the world of elite ballet.
However, I’m not sure this book quite knew what it wanted to be. It tried to be a thriller sometimes, but it was not. It rounded up so many issues women face, but it did not deal with them with depth and care. The main character became more and more unlikable as the book progressed, revealing herself to be increasingly shallow, self-absorbed, and out of touch. The flashback chapters lost their effectiveness as they gradually caught up to the present timeline. The story did not feel cohesive, but more like a grab bag of trigger warnings and shock value.
I like how this book portrayed the differences between the insular world of ballet and the “real world,” and how this disconnect affected relationships both inside and outside of the ballet bubble throughout these women’s lives. However, the actual story sends confusing messages about friendship, women’s empowerment, and success.