Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Review: Bunheads by Sophie Flack

As a dancer with the ultra-prestigious Manhattan Ballet Company, nineteen-year-old Hannah Ward juggles intense rehearsals, dazzling performances and complicated backstage relationships. Up until now, Hannah has happily devoted her entire life to ballet. 
But when she meets a handsome musician named Jacob, Hannah's universe begins to change, and she must decide if she wants to compete against the other "bunheads" in the company for a star soloist spot or strike out on her own in the real world. Does she dare give up the gilded confines of the ballet for the freedoms of everyday life?

Reviews like this are the hardest for me to write. I wanted to love this book – the premise, the blurb, everything about it screamed that it was going to be a book that I would enjoy, and yet I was left severely disappointed.

I think that the first step, the key into the world, Hannah, was my first problem with the book. If I had identified with her, or felt with her then I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more. As it was she came across as completely self-absorbed, to the point that even the reader would struggle to identify with her, never mind any love interests. I get that she is conflicted about her life, and her choices, and maybe it is simply a reflection of what I personally was expecting about this book, but to have almost three hundred pages of a dancer who effectively whinges and gripes about her life as a ballet dancer wasn’t really what I signed up for. I wanted to see some of her love for ballet and for dance come through, and yes there are moments of that but they are so few and far between that it didn’t really count for anything.

None of the characters were fully developed. The girls in her dressing room were all just names and faces, no real thought given into fleshing them out and giving them human arcs. They changed to suit the story, one moment being friends, the next back stabbing and competitive. Again I know this is meant to show the competitive nature of the world of ballet, but it was so under developed that it really didn’t show it.

And then we have the love interests (plural) and why there were two of them I’m not really sure, except maybe to act as a plot device… There was no relationship built up with either of the boys, no characters, no romance. The scenes with them were few and far between which meant that we got no real sense of the relationship building up, which was a shame.

And my biggest and final gripe with this book? The complete lack of plot development or story arc. That combined with the stop start style of writing was enough to make me want to put the book down long before it was over. Flack insists on patronising the reader and explaining basic elements of the theatre in great detail – thus breaking the narrative and making the whole thing seem disjointed. But as soon as we get into the dancing, where I imagine most readers, myself included would like to know a little more about the movements she’s dancing other than their names, and are a little lost with that little information, Flack goes completely silent and offers nothing to help the reader along.

There are some lovely moments when Hannah remembers she loves dancing and actually enjoys it, but these are so few and far between that it hardly lifted the book at all.
The book does offer an interesting insight into the gruelling world of a ballet dancer, but again, without a protagonist that I cared about, it was all a little bit lost.

It felt as though the book was a cathartic experience for someone who has gone through and lived this story, but it was too underdeveloped to be a great book with this story at its heart. Frustrating and hard to engage with this was a book that I wanted to love but left me feeling cold after reading.

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