Astonish Me

A Novel
Narrated by: Rebecca Lowman
Length: 10 hrs and 10 mins
4 out of 5 stars (235 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

From the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel Seating Arrangements, winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction: a gorgeously written, fiercely compelling glimpse into the demanding world of professional ballet and its magnetic hold over two generations. 

Astonish Me is the irresistible story of Joan, a young American dancer who helps a Soviet ballet star, the great Arslan Rusakov, defect in 1975. A flash of fame and a passionate love affair follow, but Joan knows that, onstage and off, she is destined to remain in the background. She will never possess Arslan, and she will never be a prima ballerina. She will rise no higher than the corps, one dancer among many.After her relationship with Arslan sours, Joan plots to make a new life for herself. She quits ballet, marries a good man, and settles in California with him and their son, Harry. But as the years pass, Joan comes to understand that ballet isn’t finished with her yet, for there is no mistaking that Harry is a prodigy. Through Harry, Joan is pulled back into a world she thought she’d left behind - back into dangerous secrets, and back, inevitably, to Arslan.

Combining a sweeping, operatic plot with subtly observed characters, Maggie Shipstead gives us a novel of stunning intensity and deft psychological nuance. Gripping, dramatic, and brilliantly conjured, Astonish Me confirms Shipstead’s range and ability and raises provocative questions about the nature of talent, the choices we must make in search of fulfillment, and how we square the yearning for comfort with the demands of art. 

©2014 Maggie Shipstead (P)2014 Random House Audio
What members say
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Soaring story

I loved this story. I was astonished at the economy of Shipstead's language. I love understated writing telling a big juicy story. Also, the characters are luscious and a treat to spend time with. I don't know what else to say without bubbling over with spoilers.

Also, the narrator nails the dry tone. Yay good narration!

4 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Not what I'd hoped for

I picked up Astonish Me after listening to a review of it on National Public Radio. The reviewer really liked the book, and it seemed like it would give me a glimpse into the (unknown to me) world of classical ballet. Two thirds of the way through the book I decided I could use my time more wisely and abandoned it. This is very unusual for me - I am a stick-to-it kinda gal. I found the reader's presentation to be ostentatious and pompous, when the story had very little pomp about it. Overall, I sum it up this way: I gave up, unastonished.

6 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Darling characters, imaginative storyline

fell in love with all the characters of this book, all fully fleshed out and intriguing, really enoyed hearing from each of their perspectives. the plot blew me away- many things came together magically near the end, clever writing style

1 person found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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REVIEW WITH SPOILERS!!!!!

"Astonish Me" was not astonishing. Some of the writing was lovely, but the story was just okay. WARNING: Here is the spoiler/ and I HATED the last few chapters. A couple of the characters were unlikeable enough without the additional heap of self centered, destructive, self-importance that was the final ballet. Come on. Awful people, and no amount of prose about their genius and brilliance changed my opinion.

2 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Well told interesting story

The characters were realistically developed & the storyline heartened back to an interesting period of defecting Russian ballet dancers.

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    5 out of 5 stars

Incredible story, incredible characters!

Would you listen to Astonish Me again? Why?

Yes, there are not too many books I would read/listen to again, but I actually thought of listening again. (Just so I could catch some of the subtle nuances between the characters that I may not have appreciated the first time)

What other book might you compare Astonish Me to and why?

I typically read other genres, so this book was a very pleasant surprise.

Which scene was your favorite?

There were so many. I loved the fish dive scene but I absolutely loved the ending too.

Who was the most memorable character of Astonish Me and why?

I would say for me it is Joan, though I loved the metamorphosis of Chloe. For me, the interactions and relationships Joan has with each character utlimately creates a complex, entangled and twisted love story that is masterfully crafted through Maggie's storytelling.

Any additional comments?

A must read or listen! Rebecca Lowman also does a fabulous reading!

1 person found this helpful