August Book of the Month: Letters from Yelena, by Guy Mankowski

Posted: August 7, 2012 in Books of the Month, Writing Talk

I’ve been lucky enough to have been selected by Guy as one of the beta readers for his second novel (following the excellent The Intimates). Which basically means I get to read the thing before it hits the shelves in October. Ner-ner. But never fear, the book is out in October, and you can place your pre-orders now. Definitely worth a read.

Letters CoverHere’s my review:

Guy Mankowski’s second novel, Letters from Yelena, is a fantastic literary achievement, instantly setting aside any concerns over a ‘difficult second novel’ for this immensely talented north east author. Following on from his excellent debut, The Intimates, this novel is an intimate character study of a highly skilled, yet psychologically scarred ballerina, told in epistolary form. The epistolary form is often seen as a rather old-fashioned literary device, but here, Mankowski breathes new life into it, creating a captivating, engaging narrative which plucks at our heart-strings.

It’s clear that the novel has been excellently researched – Mankowski was awarded a grant by the Arts Council to visit the world-famous ballet school in St Petersburg and, in his acknowledgements, he also states he has spent a great deal of time with dancers from a school in the north east of England – but this is far more than simply an information-dump. There is a real, honest-to-goodness story here. And the way Mankowski tells it? Astounding. The characters are delicately described. The atmosphere created is tangible. The language pirhouettes, spins, soars: some of the imagery is simply brilliant. More: the comparisons between dancing and writing are great.

Yelena is, of course, the pumping heart of the story. She is a very fragile character whose present has been irrevocably damaged by the things which have happened to her in her past. Her past informs everything, from her relationships with her family and friends, as well as her fellow dancers, to her self-image. The letters which form the novel are her way of explaining herself, both to herself, and to her lover, a famous writer, who, in a neat analogy with Mankowski’s research, has also visited a ballet school in order to conduct research for a novel.

Ultimately it is a novel about life as reflected through art, and how the truth can be negotiated as such. It’s a dance to the music of life. And it is also the most beautifully written book I’ve read this year. This is writing by an author who has found his voice and now that voice is growing louder and louder, and more and more confident, and his reputation is, rightly, growing and growing.

One final note: as usual, artist Gudrun Jobst’s cover is simply brilliant, in my humble opinion!

And here’s the product details from Amazon:

Book Details:

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (1 Oct 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1909039101
  • ISBN-13: 978-1909039100

Book Description: “My letters to you, my darling Noah, will be maps, in which I hope I can be found.”

Yelena, a brilliant but flawed Ukrainian ballerina, comes to the UK to fulfil her dreams and dance in one of ballet’s most prestigious roles: Giselle. While researching content for his new book, Yelena meets Noah, and here begins a journey of discovery.

Life takes an unexpected turn, and the two write letters in which they try to provide a blueprint of their lives and find their way back to each other. But during this process, Yelena visits the darkest corners of her life and, before she knows it, her past begins to catch up with her in ways she can’t control.

A dark, intricate labyrinth, Letters from Yelena explores the depths of one woman’s own inner torment, the extremes to which we can be taken, and whether or not there is a way out.

Biography – Guy Mankowski

Guy Mankowski was born in 1983 and raised on the Isle of Wight, before being taught by monks at Ampleforth College, York. After graduating with a Masters from Newcastle University and a Psychology degree from Durham, Guy formed a Dickensian pop band called Alba Nova, releasing one EP. After that he started working as a psychologist at The Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in London. His debut novel, The Intimates, was published by Legend Press. It was chosen as a ‘Must Read’ title by New Writing North’s Read Regional 2011 campaign and was called in for the Dylan Thomas Prize. He second novel, Letters from Yelena, won an Arts Council Research and Development Grant and is due for publication by Legend Press on 1st October 2012. He is currently writing his third, provisionally titled ‘How I Left The National Grid’.

You can follow Guy Mankowski on Twitter @Gmankow


  1. […] Letters from Yelena is launched on 01/10/2012 at Dance City, Newcastle, where a scene from it, choreographed by Dora Frankel, will be performed set to an original soundtrack by composer Jeremy Bradfield. Tickets for the event can be ordered from the Dance City box office. […]

  2. […] Letters from Yelena is launched on 01/10/2012 at Dance City, Newcastle, where a scene from it, choreographed by Dora Frankel, will be performed set to an original soundtrack by composer Jeremy Bradfield. Tickets for the event can be ordered from the Dance City box office. […]

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