Clara & Olivia (UK) / The Dance of the Dolls (US)

Written by Lucy Ashe
Review by Kate Pettigrew

Clara and Olivia are twin sisters, ballerinas with great talent who have worked hard to win their places at Sadler’s Wells in 1933 London. But while they are identical in appearance, they are different in character. Olivia is absorbed in rehearsals, stays in, and has early nights, while Clara knows the value of relaxing. She enjoys wining and dining with other cast members, including Nathan, a former child prodigy who is now a pianist at Sadler’s Wells. Another person in their orbit is Samuel, who makes bespoke dance shoes for the ballerinas. As rehearsals for their next production, Coppélia, get long and arduous, both twins are aware of being watched. But by whom, and what do they want?

Lucy Ashe’s debut novel is a clever thriller set in a world which she knows so well, having trained at the Royal Ballet School and being a twin. It’s a story of sisterly love, ambition, and obsession. I particularly liked the inclusion of real-life characters, such as Dame Ninette de Valois and Alicia Markova, and discovering Sadler’s Wells really did have a well in it. The novel was written from several points of view, and while that can be a difficult format for the reader, it works as the characters are compelling. Take a bow, Ms Ashe.