The Ballerinas by Rachel Kapelke-Dale is a contemporary that dresses as a thriller. Delphine returns to Paris to whine about her life and choreograph a ballet. Don’t let the plot summary tell you otherwise.
All quotes are from an advanced reader copy, and may or may not reflect the published edition.
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.
“A ballerina is a perfect woman. Thin. Beautiful. Invisibly strong.”
Pardon my language here but, I’m sorry, what the fuck was that? This was hands down one of the worst thrillers I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading. The pacing is incredibly slow, the narration of past and present is confusing at best, and the characters are mind-numbingly boring. Delphine is whiny and self-loathing as if communicating with her friends her true feelings would actually kill her. Lindsey is selfish and childish, vindictive without consequences. And Margaux was so flat that it felt like even the author sometimes forgot the character existed in the book.
“And that was what I liked. To hide the suffering with my own brand of perfection. That’s also why I hate it so much when they get it wrong.”
It’s important to note the concepts that the plot summary assumes that this book has. While female friendships can be complicated, and the ballet world is dramatic, this book wrote women in such cliché ways. They are all driven by what men do, or how they appear to men, or how men can get them further in their world. What was the twist in this book? That men are terrible? I’m missing how this was supposed to be a surprise to any female reader. This book felt as though it would lead to some feminist-esque agenda, but we failed to even receive that.
“I was the chosen one, now… I was the muse. It was strange. But it was different, and so it was good.”
I was lost as to what the plot exactly was, in this book. The female struggle as an adult? The balance of friendships and career? Women’s choices around their bodies? Anything regarding that “incident” in their past that is not explained until 60% into the book and brushed off in the end? This was a disappointing read. I wanted so much more from it, and instead, I am leaving it frustrated and confused. There is no suspense, no thrills, and honestly, not a single twist.
“We weren’t free. That moment was enough to ruin her forever.”
Thank you (I guess) to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.