Using the scaffolding of Isadora Duncan’s life and the stuff of her spirit, Amelia Gray delivers an incredibly imaginative portrait of the artist
In 1913, the restless world sat on the brink of unimaginable suffering. But for one woman, the darkness of a new era had already made itself at home. Isadora Duncan would come to be known as the mother of modern dance, but in the spring of 1913 she was a grieving mother, after a freak accident in Paris resulted in the drowning death of her two young children.
The accident cracked Isadora’s life in two: on one side, the brilliant young talent who captivated audiences the world over; on the other, a heartbroken mother spinning dangerously on the edge of sanity.
Isadora is a shocking and visceral portrait of an artist and woman drawn to the brink of destruction by the cruelty of life. In her breakout novel, Amelia Gray offers a relentless portrayal of a legendary artist churning through prewar Europe. Isadora seeks to obliterate the mannered portrait of a dancer and to introduce the reader to a woman who lived and loved without limits, even in the darkest days of her life.
Gray follows her powerful 2015 short story collection Gutshot with an uneven novel about dancer and choreographer Isadora Duncan. In 1913, at the peak of her career, Duncan's children, six-year-old Deirdre and toddler Patrick, drown in the Seine when the car in which she has sent them home from a restaurant lunch plunges into the river. To assuage her grief and guilt and avoid a clamoring public Duncan, the children's ashes in tow, departs Paris for Corfu, Turkey, Albania, and the Italian port of Viareggio. As she battles physical illness and mental collapse, she spends time with her brothers Augustin and Raymond; her sister, Elizabeth, who runs a school in Darmstadt based on Isadora's methods; and legendary actress Eleonora Duse, among others. By the time she returns to France to dance again, she is forever changed, if not fully healed. Gray's striking, sensual language is perfectly suited to her visionary protagonist, and the novel shimmers with memorable prose. But a surfeit of mundane moments narrated in the perspectives of secondary characters (including Elizabeth, her lover Max Merz, and Duncan's lover, sewing machine heir Paris Singer) blunts its emotional power. Gray's 2012 novel, Threats, used similarly brief, disjunctive segments to build toward a compelling whole; in contrast, Isadora spreads its attention too thin to fully capitalize on any of its narrative's or its author's rich possibilities.
What a book!
Isadora is an incredibly moving and beautiful book.