Billy Elliot by Melvin Burgess & Lee Hall

Challenge 19 ~ “A book based on a true story.”

billy

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Alongside reading I also love musicals, but Billy Elliot is one of those I haven’t yet seen. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work alongside two of the original Billys, but other than the common perceptions of the story, I knew little about Billy Elliot before I read the book (other than Electricity, of course!) The funny thing is, the novel didn’t really tell the tale that I was expecting.

From what I knew, Billy Elliot was about a boy from the north who wanted to do ballet, and then became a stunning ballet dancer, but there is so much more to the story than that. Burgess and Hall take the opportunity to address the issues of the society and some key themes as well as presenting the tale of perseverance and pursuing one’s dream. In any summary of the story, I’ve never heard mention of Margaret Thatcher or the mine strikes, and yet these are integral parts to both the wider storyline and the character developments.

I have to admit that despite the incredible depth to the story, it took me a while to really get into the book. The story is presented from many characters’ point of view, which really helps to explore the wider societal issues, yet to begin with it is difficult to establish quite how they all relate to one another. Combined with the requirement of adjusting to a northern English voice, it can take several chapters before the reader finds their feet. Nevertheless, Burgess and Hall ensure a high quality standard of writing with realistic character development and a strong research base throughout the book.

Before I opened the novel I had no idea as to the hidden depths of Billy Elliot, but Burgess and Lee present a complex, multi-sided and well-researched exploration into Thatcherite Britain through the eyes of a northern village, whilst simultaneously addressing misconceptions of male ballerinas. The writing standard is terrific, and once accustomed with the northern voice, flows flawlessly. I can’t say why it has taken me so long to read, but now I cannot wait to see it performed on stage!

Recommended for fans of:

  • The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
  • Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

 

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