Book Review for “Adele: A Novel” by Nicola Cassidy.
Summary: “1905: Eight-year-old Adele Austerlitz moves from her humble home in Omaha, Nebraska, with her five-year-old brother Fred, to New York to begin training at a professional stage academy. They undertake a gruelling schedule of rehearsals and touring, setting the foundations of what will be the most famous and sought-after dance partnership on 1920s Broadway.” Adele’s story is also peppered with the stories of two other women, tell the tale of the forgotten sister of Fred Astaire; the dancer, icon, and star.
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction, Biographical; Settings: Historical, USA: Omaha, New York, Los Angeles, England, Ireland; Other Categories: Novel.
I am a HUGE fan of Fred Astaire movies, and I could watch them over and over. Of course, I knew that he had a sister Adele, who used to be his dancing partner (or rather, he was made into her partner), and that to begin with, she was the popular and more famous of the two. Then I saw from a recent Top Ten Tuesday list by Nicki of Secret Library Book Blog that there was a novel about her. Well, frankly, I didn’t care what Nicki thought of the book, I had to have it (and I was lucky enough to get it when it was on sale). The drawback with something like this is that I had very high expectations for this book, and sometimes that can be… shall we say… less than a good thing. Mind you, I haven’t read Nicola Cassidy before, so there were no positive or negative expectations as far as that was concerned. In fact, I was very pleased with her writing, and I found her style to be quietly engaging, not overwhelmingly poetic, but with a feeling that she wrote this from her heart, which made me warm to the novel. Furthermore, since it starts with Adele as a little girl, I was very impressed how Cassidy was able to have Adele’s voice start out sounding very young, and slowly growing up over time.
As good as this sounds, there are a couple reasons why I couldn’t give this a full 5/5 stars, and they mostly had to do with, what I think, were superfluous inclusions to the narrative. In fact, there were two parts that stood out as unnecessary. The first was in the beginning of the novel where we have a woman, Ellie who in 1975 is researching a book about Adele, and goes to Omaha to get more information about the Astaire’s early life. This arc goes just to a certain point, and then doesn’t come back until the end of the book. However, Cassidy includes fictional interviews with people who knew Adele or worked with her, as well as fictional articles, which I assume were supposed to be part of Ellie’s research for her book. That wasn’t terribly clear, and even so, not all of what’s in these interviews seems totally relevant to the story. I actually didn’t mind these pieces, as they gave second hand accounts that provided background and filled in some holes that might have been boring if described by Adele in the rest of the narrative. However, when Ellie shows up at the end of the book, I realized what Cassidy was doing, and got the concept, but… this could have been handled more elegantly, mostly because we don’t really get a chance to like Ellie much, even after we understand her motivation for writing the book.
The other is the parts about a young woman Patricia, who succeeds in getting employment at Lismore Castle in Ireland, owned by the family of Charles Cavendish, who was Adele’s first husband. Now, I get that Cassidy was trying to bring some of Charles Cavendish’s history into the book, but I don’t believe this was the best way to do this. Plus, the information about Lismore Castle – where the two lived after they married – was interesting, but this just felt like sidetracked filler. I really didn’t care how beautiful the home was, or how difficult it was to maintain, or what the downstairs life was like. Yes, the bit about his car accident, and why it happened, were important, but they could have been included differently. I’m sad to say that these really disturbed the flow of this novel for me, and when they came up, they had me impatient to get back to Adele’s story. Here too, Cassidy gives Patricia another voice through a couple of those fictional interviews, and those parts were okay. While I did like Patricia, and I get why Cassidy included her story, it didn’t fit the pace of the rest of the book.
Unfortunately, these weren’t my only problems with this novel, although they are more minor niggles. For example, Cassidy used British terms where she probably should have used American ones (like nickers instead of underwear or panties), and then there was the fluid timeline. There were places here that jumped ahead a few months or years, and then went back to the chronological storytelling. This made the narrative feel a bit choppy and confusing. Cassidy also uses more than one POV for her characters, switching from first to third person. That’s not a bad thing at all, and I’ve seen it work beautifully in many novels. The thing is, sometimes I found myself feeling she wasn’t totally consistent with these. I’m sure she was, but I found myself wondering whose story was being told and when, as she shifted focus from one viewpoint to another. I’m thinking that this could have been easily fixed with slightly clearer chapter headings, perhaps. Finally, with all this, this book is not short, coming in at 450 pages, and aside from the Ellie and Patricia parts, I’m thinking that a whole lot more could have been edited out or adjusted to make this a tighter story, with a bit more showing and a bit less telling. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still going to recommend this book because Adele’s sections really are the bulk of this work, and Cassidy’s stunning ability to draw Adele in such a way that we feel we are watching her grow up before our very eyes! That’s talent. I just think that to be honest, I can only give it 3.5 stars out of five.
Poolbeg Press released “Adele: A Novel of the Forgotten Sister of Fred Astaire” by Nicola Cassidy on March 5, 2020. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from an IndieBound store near you.