Beneath the Parisian Skies…
Lily Johansson returns to Paris, the city that broke her heart and destroyed her ballet career, hoping to ease the guilt over her fiance’s death and to make amends with her estranged sister Natalie, a ballerina with the Boheme Ballet.
Terrified of loving again, Lily nevertheless finds herself becoming entangled with the driven composer Yves Rousseau. Lily has many reasons for keeping Yves at arm’s length but as he recounts the colour, drama and intensity of the Ballets Russes in 1917, the magic of this Bohemian era ignites a spark within her.
Meanwhile, cast in the role of honouring Ballet Russes dancer Viktoriya Budian, Lily’s sister Natalie develops an unhealthy obsession. Natalie’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic as elements of Viktoriya’s tragic life resonate in her own. Lily fears for her sister’s safety and sanity so when Natalie goes missing, she and Yves set out on a desperate quest across France to find her and, along the way, battle their own demons.
Could the search for her sister, lead Lily to realise that ballet — like love and life — should not be abandoned so easily?
Parisian Dreams (Prequel to Beneath the Parisian Skies)…
When Australian Lily Johansson earns the opportunity to dance for the prestigious Bohème Ballet in Paris, she fulfils a lifelong dream and continues a family legacy — but it comes at a cost.
While Lily falls in love with the City of Light and her professional life catapults her into fame, her personal life suffers as the relationship with her fiancé deteriorates. On a stormy night, an argument sends Lily racing across the road and a speeding car tragically changes her life forever. Lily’s heart, once full of love and hope, is smashed to pieces and her career crumbles into a hopeless mess. Stumbling into a solitary future she’d never planned, Lily must learn to live with the grief of losing the man she loved and find her way in an unfamiliar world.
Lovers of ballet and all things French will thoroughly enjoy Alli Sinclair’s Beneath the Parisian Skies and its short prequel, Parisian Dreams.
I began reading Beneath the Parisian Skies fairly late in the evening, and I was instantly drawn into both of the storylines presented: Lily in present day Paris and Viktoriya in the Paris of 1917. I intended on just reading a couple of chapters to get started on that first night, but before I knew it, I could hardly keep my eyes open any longer and I was about 125 pages into the story. The next day at work I read the prequel during my lunch break. It’s quite short, and not necessarily imperative to the story of Beneath the Parisian Skies, but it does provide some context for Lily’s tragedy as well a few early hints about her relationship with Viktoriya. If you’re going to read both, I would recommend not leaving Parisian Dreams until after Beneath the Parisian Skies. You will enjoy it more before or early on in the novel, around the point that I read it.
As far as characters and storylines go, I far preferred Viktoriya’s from 1917. In part this can be attributed to my preference for historical fiction, but I also found Viktoriya to be a much stronger and more admirable character than Lily; her storyline was also far more intriguing to me than Lily’s. Viktoriya’s love affair with Alexi and her relationship with Yana endeared me to her and I was heartbroken to see the extent of the manipulations she had to suffer and how this ultimately affected her destiny. Viktoriya’s story was not as conclusive as Lily’s and I will admit I found this disappointing. Surely there was more to her life in the end than what we saw when we had to leave her? What really made Viktoriya’s story shine for me though, was all of the details Alli included about the Ballets Russes. Her research was meticulous and the way she wove all of this into the story was spellbinding. I love ballet, my daughter is a ballet dancer and has been for thirteen years now, so I enjoyed all of these references and appreciated the efforts Alli has clearly gone to in order to make this story as authentic as possible. The inclusion of real historical personalities was also a nice touch, and again, they were woven into the narrative with authenticity, keeping their historical value intact.
Lily’s story in the present day certainly held my attention, but I did find her to be somewhat tiring at times, and she could be a tad melodramatic (even taking her personal tragedy into account) and also quite self-centred, particularly within her interactions with the very lovely Yves. I could see the writing on the wall with her sister long before she could, which further supports my claims of her self-centredness; Lily noticed what Lily wanted to notice. Anything else was blocked by her wall of grief and guilt, a very unhealthy way to live. And while on the topic of her sister, Natalie was quite a toxic character, and for the most part I felt that Lily’s interactions with her sister were rather realistic, given the circumstances between them. I never really came to like Natalie, and much of her behaviour didn’t seem to have any supporting context; she was indeed a dramatic and odd young woman. While Lily frustrated me at times, she came through in the end and I enjoyed seeing all of the pieces fall into place for her. She really had been dealt a tragic hand, a double whammy, so I certainly bore this in mind whenever she did something that made me want to shake her! I adored the character of Yves, he was truly lovely and every woman’s dream Frenchman.
On the whole, Beneath the Parisian Skies is a beautifully touching novel and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It moves along at a good pace and alternates between the two eras at just the right points within each of the character’s stories. Infused with ballet and rich in its Parisian setting, Beneath the Parisian Skies contains themes of love, grief, ambition, and passion that will resonate with many readers. I highly recommend this novel and put it forward as a great book club pick.
Beneath the Parisian Skies and Parisian Dreams together count as book 58 in my 2017 Australian Women Writer’s Challenge.