Margin Notes: Astonish Me

I just realized I never posted my review of one of my favorite books of the year! Astonish Me!! How COULD I? Here it is.

Astonish Me

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.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved "Seating Arrangements" and have been looking forward to this book since I heard about it. It didn't disappoint. It was beautifully written--elegant, perfect descriptions. She's subtle but teases out such accurate emotions and personality traits. Just a beautiful read.
Maggie Shipstead does something in her writing that makes me reconsider the notions I have about what kind of writing I like. Normally, I can't get into books that have unlikeable characters, however, I can't tear myself away from hers. Normally, the way the plot of Astonish Me in particular moves through time would confuse me, but I found following this plot effortless. Normally, I'd shy away from the fact that Astonish Me wraps up beautifully, but with questions unanswered. In this case, I found it perfect and couldn't imagine a better ending.
I highly recommend both Maggie Shipstead and Astonish Me. A book I couldn't wait to get back into. Just beautifully done.

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