A grand, ambitious debut, set in the elegantly volatile world of professional ballet.
At 16, Jean-Baptiste St. Michel is almost finished as a classical dancer. His teachers have lost faith in him—and he’s given up on himself—but one aged prima donna sees promise in the awkward, beautiful boy. She whisks him away from the Académie in Paris, gives him a place in her small English ballet company and turns him over to a daring, mercurial and brilliant choreographer. Years of total dedication and unrelenting work transform Michel into a star. Jonni Kendal is a fledgling actress, in London for her first professional role, but her interest in her career fades when she meets Michel. It takes just one night for her to become completely captivated by this gorgeous, graceful and serenely confident young man and his beguiling circle of friends. As for Michel, he’s quite taken with Jonni’s sweet face and generous backside, but he saves all his emotion for the stage. The evolution of this tragically flawed relationship is just one facet of Horsfall’s epic first novel. This big, rich, romantic saga, peopled with a full cast of appealing characters, and their complex, compelling stories, are allowed to develop over the course of several years. Comparisons to Barbara Taylor Bradford and Maeve Binchy are easy, but Horsfall has her own style and her own sensibility. Although she gives her audience plenty of sentimentality and spectacle, she writes with a cool, dry—occasionally wry—voice that’s the perfect complement to her combustible subjects. The narrative sparkles with love and lust and intrigue and betrayals and breakdowns, but the drama never seems contrived; instead, it’s just a natural by-product of ballet, the inevitable outpouring of devoted young artists working and living together in a rarefied, insulated and high-pressure world. Horsfall is also able to relate a great deal of information about dance without ever becoming didactic, which makes her book as edifying as it is entertaining.
A sophisticated, satisfying treat.