Author: Alli Sinclair
Alli Sinclair is an Australian author with a passion for dance, and it shows. Beneath the Parisian Skies is part of the Wandering Skies series, which I was not aware of until after reading the book. Don’t be put off though because there doesn’t actually seem to be anything linking the books except a theme.
Beneath the Parisian Skies has a FREE prequel, only available digitally, which I only looked into after reading the novel – but that didn’t stop me from ordering Parisian Dreams and devouring it. The prequel is three chapters that sets the scene for the novel, it is hard for me to say what it adds to the experience because I read it after I finished the book. It is not imperative but certainly worth the read. It gives a short background and allows us to see how Lily found herself in Paris.
There is a strong historical element to Beneath the Parisian Skies. The entire story is set in Paris but we have two timelines, Paris in 1917 and Present Day Paris. The historical element had me intrigued and on finishing the book I headed to Google to do a little research, the Ballets Russes did exist and some of the major players in the book were actual people but I think our leading lady was a product of Alli Sinclair.
Viktoria Budian is a ballerina with the Ballets Russes in 1917, she has escaped Russia with her life but had to leave her family behind. She is determined to make a new life for herself and earn enough to bring her family to safety in Paris.
Ballet is in her blood, her heart and soul. She has turned to dance to get her through the trying times in her life and she has channeled that passion to help unfortunate girls find a new purpose. Hers is a life of passion, dedicated to her art and helping people where she can.
The times are tough and the world is in turmoil and ballet may seem a little frivolous with so many lives in danger. But some think that’s an even better reason to ensure that the arts flourish, to offer hope in a tumultuous world.
Her aspirations are all tied up with the ballet and moving up to leading lady from understudy but she is faced with the tough decision of putting love or her dreams first.
In the present Lily Johansson has returned to Paris to make peace with her past, and her estranged sister. Paris is the city of love, of romance, but for Lily it’s the city that broke her heart and her career.
The two stories are linked by the ballet and there is also a character connection that isn’t made clear until later in the book. The Bohème Ballet is looking to produce a ballet that honours the life of Viktoriya so we see snippets of her life through the lens of history as well as in chapters set in the past.
Sinclair has penned a poetic tale of history echoing its way into the present, it’s not a case of history repeating but there are certainly similarities between the events of the past and what’s going on in the present.
Lily is closed off from her life as she tries to get through the days since losing her fiancé, I would like to say moving on but she seems to quite actively resist moving on for a lot of the story.
Sinclair has written a story that celebrates the ballet while not romanticising it. She doesn’t gloss over the gruelling workload, the blisters and the bruises; and the hard work to actually make it. There are so many positions in a ballet and you may never make it to the top and dance as a leading lady, sometimes the years of hardwork can get you into a prestigious ballet company but still leave you dancing as an understudy.
The beauty of the book is in the way Sinclair has woven the ballet into the lives of the characters, the ballet is part of their heart and soul and even when it’s taken away it can’t be escaped. Not being able to dance doesn’t lessen the hold.
I enjoyed the way that the two stories weave around one another but I’m left wanting more of Viktoriya’s story.
Lily returns to Paris to try to mend her relationship with her sister Natalie, who is trying for the role of Viktoriya in the new ballet. Her fixation on the role leads to an unhealthy obsession that very nearly ends her career before her star has had it’s chance to shine. After having the door slammed in her face Lily is out walking in a park when she comes across Yves Rousseau and inspires him; only to discover that he is composing said ballet.
The storytelling is intricate as Sinclair weaves the magic of the ballet with love, loss, grief, dreams and the heart-wrenching journey to acceptance and moving on.
Paris is a place of such history and Sinclair paints it beautifully. I am not one who has ever really caught the travel bug, I don’t feel the need to see other places but I do love to see places in my reading and I think if there was ever a place that I did decide I wanted to see… Paris would probably be it.
Beneath the Parisian Skies is an engaging tale of love, loss, grief and passion that has left me with images of the ballet playing behind my eyes.
Beneath the Parisian Skies is Book #29 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2017.