If you enjoy historical fiction and are a fan of the ballet, then I have the perfect book for you as I join the blog tour for Clara & Olivia by Lucy Ashe. Many thanks to Lucy and Magpie Books for providing me with a copy of the book, and to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting my to join the tour.
SADLER’S WELLS, LONDON 1933
I would kill to dance like her.
Sisters Olivia and Clara rehearse with Ninette de Valois at the recently opened Sadler’s Wells. Disciplined and dedicated, Olivia is the perfect ballerina. But no matter how hard she works, she can never match up to identical twin Clara’s charm.
I would kill to be with her.
As rehearsals intensify for the ballet Coppélia, the girls feel increasingly as if they are being watched. And as infatuation threatens to become obsession, the fragile perfection of their lives starts to unravel.
An exquisite goose-bumping debut from a former ballerina.
I adore historical fiction and the ballet, so a novel set during the early years of the Vic-Wells company was always going to capture my attention. I particularly enjoy historical fiction where real people intermingle with the books characters, and in Clara and Olivia, Lucy Ashe seamlessly blends her fictional characters with the stars of the English ballet of the 1930s.
The beauty of the ballet is echoed in the wonderfully atmospheric writing, but the sense of foreboding that begins in the prologue lingers in the corner of the stage like a shadow. In fact, there is an unsettling feeling about the whole book, with the dark spaces of the theatre (not least the well) lending a gothic feel to the story. Something about the girls’ relationship feels dangerous, too close for comfort, as if they could destroy each other, in spite of loving each other dearly, and being prepared to fight to protect each other.
I love the ballet and whilst I usually read in silence, I found myself heading to Spotify to set Coppélia and Swan Lake to play in the background. I thoroughly recommend this, as the beautiful music really adds to the emotion and drama of the book.
Even before reading her author bio (see below), it was easy to see that Lucy Ashe has a great deal of experience with the ballet, and has poured her love for it into every word of Clara and Olivia. This book is an exquisite balance of beauty and tension, of emotion and drama, and it evoked the same feelings in me as if I had just sat through the most wonderful performance of my favourite ballet.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lucy Ashe trained at the Royal Ballet School for eight years, first as a Junior Associate and then at White Lodge. She has a diploma in dance teaching with the British Ballet Organisation. She decided to go to university to read English Literature at St Hugh’s College, Oxford (MA Oxon), while continuing to dance and perform. She then took a PGCE teaching qualification and became a teacher. She currently teaches English at Harrow School, an all-boys boarding school in North London. Her poetry and short stories have been published in a number of literary journals and she was shortlisted for the 2020 Impress Prize for New Writers. She also reviews theatre, in particular ballet, writing for the website Playtosee.com
“I have a great love of ballet and am fascinated by its history. I was lucky enough to meet many of the great dancers of the Royal Ballet, even Dame Ninette de Valois when she came to White Lodge to celebrate her 100th birthday. I have performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and learnt the repertoire for many of the classical ballets.
My novel is closely researched, re-creating the early years of the Vic-Wells company at Sadler’s Wells, and the story is immersed in ballet history featuring characters such as Ninette de Valois, Lydia Lopokova, Constant Lambert, Alicia Markova and Nicholas Sergeyev. Frederick and Dora Freed and their pointe shoe workshop play a key role, as does the history of Sadler’s Wells theatre itself. In a book shop on Cecil Court, I found beautifully preserved theatre programmes from the 1932-33 season at Sadler’s Wells and it was magical to imagine my characters holding those pages.
One major inspiration for me was my twin sister. We spent the first part of our lives doing everything together: first day of school, first ballet class, first piano lesson. We were a unit, referred to simply as the twins, and we had a very special connection. That connection remains even though our lives are so entirely different now. And so, in my novel, I have been inspired by the connectedness and the bond of twins, Olivia and Clara staying so close despite their lives starting to take them in different directions.”
Make sure you pay a visit to the other blogs that are joining the tour for this fantastic book.