Thursday 9 February 2023


Book review: Clara & Olivia by Lucy Ashe [blog tour]

I love historical fiction and I love theatre in all its forms, so I was very excited to read Clara & Olivia by Lucy Ashe, which is set in the world of ballet in 1930s London. The majority of the story takes place in and around Sadler's Wells in Islington, which is an area I know very well as I used to work nearby (and pass the theatre every single day), so I was really able to immerse myself into this world while reading!

Clara and Olivia Marionetta are twins in the Vic-Wells Ballet Company. Day-in, day-out they rehearse with the other dancers, training and strengthening their bodies so they can be the perfect ballerinas. They harbour the hope of getting a starring role in one of the upcoming productions, perhaps even CoppĂ©lia, which is the next ballet the company is performing. 

Despite being identical twins, the two sisters have very different dancing methods. Olivia wants every move to be absolutely perfect. Her one goal is to be a prima donna one day, like her hero Alicia Markova. Clara, on the other, is a more free-spirited dancer. She's not quite as dedicated to her craft as her sister and she dreams of more than just ballet. While she strives less for perfection, she is more eye-catching to the audience – and admirers. 

Both sisters have their admirers, in fact. But not all of them are content just watching them perform from a distance on stage... 

Clara & Olivia is an utter delight for anyone who's even remotely interested in the performing arts. Author Lucy Ashe has trained at the Royal Ballet School herself and the language used throughout, as well as intricate details in her novel about training and performing at a dance school, added enormous depth to her story. 

Additionally, aside from the four main characters – Clara, Olivia, Samuel, and Nathan – most of the people we meet, down to the man making the pointe shoes, are all real people that lived and interacted with the dancers at Sadler's Well's in London in the 1930s. The novel must have taken a huge amount of research to place these historical figures in the right place at the right time, but it made it all the more realistic and engrossing. While reading I could easily imagine myself dwelling the hallways of Sadler's Wells, passing these ballet greats, and ending up at the well that the dancers visited many a time for good luck. 

At the heart of all that history and passion about dance are the sisters. It's very clever for the main characters to be twins. Ballet is already such an intense environment, add to that the intimacy of the sisters struggling with themselves, each other, and their upbringing – and it creates a ticking time bomb ready to explode off the pages. And I haven't even touched upon the danger that is lingering for them at the edges of those very same pages... 

I will say that the way the book has been marketed does a disservice to the story. The blurb and promotion very heavily leans on the thriller aspect, implying that it is darker than it actually is. Clara & Olivia is far more Ballet Shoes than Black Swan, focusing on the ups and downs of being a dancer and the relationship between the two sisters instead of descending into ballet-induced madness. That said, there's certainly an element of mystery to keep readers on their (en pointe) toes until the very end. 

While ballet is the guiding thread running throughout Clara & Olivia, at its heart this is a story of the bond between the twin sisters, first love, and following your dreams. The passion for art and fashion underpinning the storylines and the dedication of the characters is incredible. There is such a talent and craft that goes into all the different aspects that bring a performance together, from the shoes that allow the dancers to perfect the choreograhy to the music that accompanies them on the stage. After reading this novel, I'll certainly never look at a ballet quite in the same way again. 

Clara & Olivia by Lucy Ashe is published by One World Publications and you can now buy a copy from your favourite local book shop!

Blog tour stops for Clara & Olivia by Lucy Ashe

This review for Clara & Olivia is a part of the official blog tour for the launch of the book. Make sure to check out the other stops too!

Disclaimer: This book was gifted to me by the publisher, but this has not impacted this honest review.

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