Book Review: Clara & Olivia

“Surely you would like to be immortalised in art, fixed forever in perfection?”

Lucy Ashe ~ Clara & Olivia

Synopsis

Sadler’s Wells, 1933.

I would kill to dance like her.

Disciplined and dedicated, Olivia is the perfect ballerina. But no matter how hard she works, she can never match identical twin Clara’s charm.

I would kill to be with her.

As rehearsals intensify for the ballet Coppélia, the girls feel increasingly like they are being watched. And, as infatuation turns to obsession, everything begins to unravel.

Review

This was an utterly glorious immersive journey into the world of ballet in the 1930s.

Ballet may be beautiful, but it can also be very dangerous. It certainly isn’t easy and there are many challenges to overcome, both mentally and physically. Ashe deals with these themes well, addressing them in different ways than those readers might expect. In Clara & Olivia it is the mother who struggles with the mental illness, rather than her dancing daughters, but this affects the girls’ relationship and their attitude and decisions. We are also given a glimpse into the darker side of the early 20th century, looking at how illnesses were treated and the sad way that death came to many of those in hospitals and asylums.

The story itself is good, with plenty of twists and enough darkness to keep readers engaged. It didn’t turn out how I expected, but this was a pleasant surprise; I enjoyed how the twins worked together, but also focused on their individual ambitions, rather than being rivals.

It would have been nice to have a little more on the twins’ dynamic and the differences between them. I did enjoy the characters, especially Samuel and Milly, whose relationship developed over time; this also helped us to see a different side to Sam from that which we initially witnessed. I feel there is more to learn about these two characters and I hope there is a sequel.

There’s also plenty of dancing, which I adore, but not too much to deter readers who perhaps know very little about battements and arabesques! Ashe uses her own background as a dancer to capture the thrills and anticipation of performing, the stress of rehearsals and the superstitious rites that many dancers (and actors) cling to. It’s also great that the ballet in the book is Coppélia, which always seems to be overlooked in favour of the more popular stories like Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty.

Overall Clara & Olivia is a stunning debut that is well-written and very entertaining.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Thanks to OneWorld Publishing and Magpie Books for my proof copy. Opinions my own.

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