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Book Author: Erin Kelly

WATCH HER FALL by Erin Kelly: Book Review

A few weeks ago I wrote about a young woman and the religious sect she joined when she was a teenager (The Night We Burned).  The men and women in that cult were adrift from their families of birth, happy and relieved to be taken in (although, sadly, that happened in more ways than one) by the charismatic leader of the group until bad things start happening.

Watch Her Fall portrays a different type of cult but one almost equally dangerous.  The setting is the London Russian Ballet Company, ruled with an iron hand by Nikolai Kirilov, and it has young dancers from all over the British Isles and beyond vying for places among its exalted performers.  Now the Company is poised to present its latest production in London before embarking on a world-wide tour, and the prima ballerina is Nikolai’s daughter Ava.  It is the opportunity of a lifetime, the ballet she has dreamed of dancing since her childhood.

Tyrant that he is, Nikolai permits no deviations from his vision of any ballet, and that is especially true of “Swan Lake.” The slightest imperfection cannot be allowed, and so when Ava makes a millimeter misstep in rehearsal, she is petrified that her father will give the roles to her understudy.  It is this fear that begins her psychological unraveling.

At the same time, we see a much younger and very gifted student beginning her life in the corps de ballet.  Nikolai calls the young girls of the troupe his creatures, and says, “She sleep and eat and dance and learn and live under my roof and I will create her.”  And this young girl appears to be his favorite, much to Ava’s distress.

During another rehearsal, when Ava asks if there aren’t two possible interpretations of a step, her father falls into a frenzy.  “My work.  My dancing,” he tells the company.  No other way is possible–all must listen and obey him.

Fearful of losing her father’s favor as well as her starring role in “Swan Lake,” Ava determines to work even harder, practice more.  She is certainly willing to put in the hours, be it to please her father or to prove herself the greatest interpreter of the twin roles of Odile and Odette, but an unlucky accident puts an end to her dream.

The novel’s title, Watch Her Fall, has a double meaning.  Ava does, in fact, have a career-ending physical fall from the stage, but she also has a psychological fall into the depths of despair.  If she is not a dancer and the fulfillment of her father’s dream, what and who is she?  The way in which she copes is unexpected and distressing, and yet, at the novel’s end, the steps she takes will be understandable.  The author’s insights into the pressures of achieving success at the highest level of ballet, or in fact at any endeavor, brings life to her novel.

Erin Kelly is a journalist, a creative writing tutor, and the author of other several psychological thrillers; I reviewed her outstanding Stone Mothers in May 2019.  You can read more about her at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

STONE MOTHERS by Erin Kelly: Book Review

Growing up in a town where virtually everyone was employed or dependent in some way on a mental hospital has left its mark on Marianne Thackeray.  She had always wanted to leave Nusstead, but with no particular plan in mind that seemed like a forlorn hope.  However, after high school she was able to move to London and begin a successful career, and she determined to put her past behind her.  For Marianne, the saying “you can’t go home again” has another meaning–you don’t want to.

The statement that opens Stone Mothers is a chilling warning of what to expect.  Its author was the Chief Inspector of Asylums and Advisor for the Commission of Lunacy–can you think of a more frightening title?  His report, written in 1868, extols the virtues of the East Anglia Pauper Lunatic Asylum and states that “many women committed due to domestic discord or excess of childbearing request to stay.”  If that were true, one can only imagine the lives these women were trying to escape.

Marianne’s husband Sam thinks he has given her a wonderful gift, an apartment they can use as a getaway from their busy London lives, close to the cottage where she was born and her mother and sister still live.  In fact, Marianne’s reaction is horror, guilt, and fright at having to move into the newly designed Park Royal Manor.  To her it will always be Nazareth Hospital, formerly called the East Anglia Pauper Lunatic Asylum, the very place whose merits were extolled by the 19th-century Chief Inspector of Asylums.

The book’s title comes from an earlier time; the Victorians called their mental hospitals stone mothers.  The asylums were built with one method of dealing with mental illness, but almost as soon as they were completed, psychiatric treatment was much improved and made such places dangerous and obsolete.   For Marianne, the memories of Nazareth can’t be expunged.  Even worse than living at the newly-named Park Royal Manor, she thinks, would be telling Sam what happened at the hospital more than two decades earlier.

For generations Nazareth Hospital was the economic center of Nusstead.  Then, in a campaign spearheaded by Helen Greenlaw, a Tory member of Parliament, the hospital was closed, turning the town into a bankrupt version of its former self.  Entire families were left jobless and destitute, including the father of Marianne’s secret high school lover, Jesse, and her own mother.

Jesse has never forgiven Helen for her part in closing the hospital, and neither has anyone else in the town.  Now he has a plan, he tells Marianne, to make Helen pay.  Marianne responds that the fact is that the three of them are equally to blame for what happened in the aftermath of the hospital’s closing, but Jesse doesn’t perceive it that way and can’t be persuaded to leave it alone.

Consequently, Marianne sees her whole world, which includes her husband and their very vulnerable daughter, crumbling before her eyes.

Erin Kelly has written a thriller in many shades of gray.  The characters do bad things, but mostly not for bad reasons.  Their motives, if not commendable, are understandable, and the reader is torn between condemnation and sympathy.  Stone Mothers is a truly skillful, beautifully written novel.

You can read more about Erin Kelly at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.