The Turnout by Megan Abbott is a book that takes a deep dive into the world of ballet, blending nerve-shredding noir plotting with sharp psychological insight. Abbott is an extraordinary writer, and her more recent novels have focused on finding the secret cracks in the relationships that women have with each other in highly pressurised environments.
She has dealt with the worlds of gymnastics and scientific research of late, and she adapted her most famous book, Dare Me, for Netflix, delving into the troubled psyches of cheerleaders in small-town America.
The Turnout focuses on sisters Dara and Marie Durant who, along with Dara’s husband Charlie, run the Durant School of Dance following the accidental death of their parents. There are already tensions between the three of them when they hire a contractor, Derek, to do building renovations. Derek is a classic alpha male, a macho and confident juxtaposition to the delicate and thoughtful world of dance as he struts around the place. When Derek and Marie form an inevitable and dubious bond, things go from bad to worse for everyone, leading down a classic noir trajectory that takes in lies, deceit, lust, violence and eventually murder.
Abbott has always written brilliantly about the hidden desires of women, and The Turnout takes that to new heights. The sisters’ difficult relationship with each other and the memory of their parents are entirely believable, and she writes so well about our subconscious impulses for yearning, belonging and self-destruction.
The hothouse ballet backdrop is a perfect sounding board for these ideas, with classes full of fresh-faced girls desperate to succeed in an intensely competitive environment, and Abbott masterfully weaves elements of classic ballet narratives into her scintillating and sensual main story. This is simply a masterclass in great storytelling and writing, an edgy and unpredictable tale full of nuance about the violence we inflict on others and ourselves.
The Turnoutby Megan Abbott is out on August 3 (Virago, £14.99)