Skip to content

Apollo’s Angels by Jennifer Homans (thoughts)

January 23, 2012

You know how some books sound like a good idea, start out strong, and then when you’re over halfway through you suddenly realise you’ve begun to dread picking it up? That’s what happened to be with Apollo’s Angels by Jennifer Homans (which I read thanks to Netgalley). It’s a history of the ballet, and as someone who loves ballet, I thought it was a natural fit. The introduction made me very excited, and the early chapters about ballet’s origins and evolution in historical Europe were fascinating. But somewhere along the line, I lost my interest. And then it just kept going and going (it’s 549 pages of actual text), and I became quite frustrated. Where was the editor? It was if once Homans got to more contemporary ballet, she was too close to the subject (as a former ballet dancer and current art critic) to be able to edit the information, and as a reader I was left drowning in minute details.

Obviously, writing about ballet is a challenge, since even photographs can’t really capture the art form. But I thought Homans’ actual descriptions of various ballet dancers and their styles were marvelous: she captured the flavour well and really conveyed it to me as a reader. And she did have some guiding themes that served her well through most of the book. But the last two parts, which focused on the twentieth century, really killed a lot of my love for the book.

I would still recommend this to ballet enthusiastists, because the historical bits were compelling and fascinating. Homans obviously loves ballet and that really comes through in her text. But my recommendation comes with a large reservation: be prepared to slog through the final two hundred pages. Unless you’re an ‘insider’ in the ballet world, I can’t imagine a reader wanting to know as many details as Homans feels compelled to share. I’m still glad that I read this, but I was even happier to turn the final page.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. January 23, 2012 6:28 am

    That last sentence really made me smile. :P

  2. January 23, 2012 10:03 am

    I just bout this book ( kindle download ). I know what you mean, and hate it when stuck in the middle of a book that I do not really want to continue but feel guilty if I do not…..:))
    Thank-you for your review :)

  3. January 23, 2012 10:35 am

    I read a review of this one not long ago – completely forgot where, but the blogger was complaining that Homans should have gone deeper into pointe shoes. That all of the sudden they were just… there. :)

  4. January 23, 2012 11:07 am

    Those early chapters do sound fascinating. I’m sorry to hear this one went straight downhill from there!

  5. January 23, 2012 12:46 pm

    I’ve never been a huge fan of the ballet. The extent of my ballet experience is seeing The Nutcracker performed each year. While I’d like to go to more performances, I don’t think this book would be for me. With all of the minute details I think it would overwhelm me.

  6. Zoya permalink
    January 23, 2012 1:11 pm

    I recently attended a ballet performance titled Rabi Thakur. It chronicles the live of the Indian poet and author Rabindranath Tagore in a series of 6 movements. While I could follow some of the movements through an interpretation guide that was provided, I realized I may not enjoy ballet as much as the theater.

  7. January 23, 2012 2:26 pm

    I’m feeling a bit nervous after your review as I also have this waiting for me from netgalley. Whilst I am a fan of ballet, I am definitely not an expert, so I hope I don’t get drowned in the details!

  8. January 24, 2012 12:53 pm

    I’m sorry you didn’t like this better. I always hate when a book doesn’t like up to the expectations I set for it. Probably not the book for me though.

  9. January 25, 2012 11:26 am

    Your comment about her getting too close to the topic to be able to edit what she had written is all too often true of writers. Thanks.

  10. January 25, 2012 7:38 pm

    I’m fond of ballet and I almost bought this, but like you, I thought I probably wouldn’t read it cover to cover. It has had very good reviews, though I am told that there is no mention of Sylvie Guilem – my favourite dancer!

  11. January 29, 2012 7:24 pm

    I can’t say I fully understand ballet as an art form, but I have tremendous respect for ballet dancers. I know I can’t dance the way they do.
    That said… I like your sincere review of Jennifer Homans’ book, Eva.

  12. January 31, 2012 8:30 am

    I wanted this badly from Netgalley, but I was refused by the publisher, or at least I never received a response to my request. I guess I can console myself now that it may not have been a fabulous read. I admit though, I’d like to have read more about ballet.

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: