25 May 2017

Isadora by Amelia Gray

Summary from Goodreads:
Using the scaffolding of Isadora Duncan’s life and the stuff of her spirit, Amelia Gray delivers an incredibly imaginative portrait of the artist

In 1913, the restless world sat on the brink of unimaginable suffering. But for one woman, the darkness of a new era had already made itself at home. Isadora Duncan would come to be known as the mother of modern dance, but in the spring of 1913 she was a grieving mother, after a freak accident in Paris resulted in the drowning death of her two young children.

The accident cracked Isadora’s life in two: on one side, the brilliant young talent who captivated audiences the world over; on the other, a heartbroken mother spinning dangerously on the edge of sanity.

Isadora is a shocking and visceral portrait of an artist and woman drawn to the brink of destruction by the cruelty of life. In her breakout novel, Amelia Gray offers a relentless portrayal of a legendary artist churning through prewar Europe. Isadora seeks to obliterate the mannered portrait of a dancer and to introduce the reader to a woman who lived and loved without limits, even in the darkest days of her life.

I've been very interested in this novel for a while.  Isadora Duncan is an absolutely important figure in the development of modern dance and in breaking away from the classical ballet tradition.  She's also a tragic figure in the discipline, first losing her eldest two children to an accident and then dying of a broken neck when her scarf is caught in a car's axle.  Of course, I would want to read a novel based on her life.

This didn't quite pan out.  There's an interesting biographical novel somewhere in Isadora, one about grief and loss and art, but it's bogged down by the style. The novel begins on the day that Isadora's children drown in a car accident in the Seine and spans the next 18 months or so told by a rotating cast of 4 characters: Paris Singer, Isadora's lover and father of her younger child; Elizabeth, Isadora's sister; Max, Elizabeth's lover (maybe her lover, maybe not?) and a teacher at the Duncan school in Darmstadt; and Isadora Duncan herself.  There are also other characters coloring the narrative, the Duncan matriarch, another Duncan sibling and his wife, students of the Duncan school, and so on. Now, the major snag here is that Isadora narrates in the first person and everyone else in a close third person point-of-view, with some letters mixed in between chapters, and that makes it absolute hell to read. Also, while some of Paris's sections were interesting, absolutely none of Max's sections were worth reading, in my opinion. Isadora's sections are the strongest, and most beautiful, with Elizabeth's a perfect contrast as the sister always in the shadow. If I could take a knife and snip out everything else leaving only these two sister narrators (and magically make Isadora's sections a close third POV) this would be a marvelous novel.

Dear FTC: I received a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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