The Ballerinas
December 19, 2021

Book Review

The Ballerinas

reviewed by Cara DiCostanzo



“I think the real tragedy of life is that we’re always the people we were and it’s only our outsides that change. And then one day we wake up to find we’re the only adults left in the room-but inside, we’re all just children pretending.”

—from “The Ballerinas”

I was excited to read The Ballerinas, but it isn’t exactly what I thought it was. The novel is character-driven, with several unique but not particularly likable characters. I would go as far as to say that none of the characters are nice people. Perhaps it is their upbringing, or perhaps it is their profession; but it certainly makes for interesting reading. The author focuses on three women – Delphine, and her two friends Margeaux and Lindsay, who grew up training in the Paris Opera Ballet.

This book is not a thriller, as described. There is not necessarily a twist, though there are bits and pieces throughout, that will give the reader pause. Unfortunately, there is no explanation behind them, which becomes confusing to the reader. At times, those bits are never mentioned again. This is a character study about young women growing up in a competitive environment and female friendships that last through the years. Or do they? The Ballerinas is not a cheerful story, nor is it a mystery that has a satisfying ending. Delphine, the main character, is a 37-year-old woman, who is both interesting and complex. The book flashes back to three timelines in her life; her teenage years; her as a young adult; and finally, we see her in her late thirties as someone who is regretting her life choices. 

Delphine has returned home to Paris, to choreograph a ballet called Tsarina. She has been living in Russia for 13 years with Dmitri, who has minimalized her, cheated on her and derailed her career. When she finally leaves him, she returns to the comfort of her home, which is the Paris Opera Ballet, and her long friendship with Margaux and Lindsay, who grew up in the ballet school with her. While she expects that their friendship will pick up right where they left off, this is not what happens. There are too many years missed. This book does an excellent job analyzing women’s friendships and how they can be destructive, rather than fulfilling. It also takes you behind the scenes of what it is like to grow up as a ballet dancer and all the horrible things it does to your psyche, but also physically, the toll it takes on your body.

As the reader, I became frustrated with Delphine’s selfishness but also, her naivete in situations where she should be wiser. The alternating timelines became confusing as they introduced different scenarios. Kapelke-Dale seemed to drop a plot point and then never go back to it. We were promised a twist and after finishing the book; I am not really sure what the twist was. The reader is left wanting more. For example, Delphine drops all of her things in a trash can at the airport.

“At the nearest trash can, I left everything I was holding tumble out of my arms. My St. Petersburg life, taking its place among McDonald’s wrappers and day-old newspapers.”

I wanted to know why, and I wished the author would have elaborated on what Delphine was trying to do.

Despite some of these issues, I found The Ballerinas an intense, interesting and sometimes heartbreaking novel. Rachel Kapelke-Dale is extremely talented and has written a truthful portrayal of friendship, innocence, and what motivates us as women.

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