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Book review: Unspeakable Beauty by Georgia Carys Williams

19 May 2024 4 minute read
Unspeakable Beauty by Georgia Carys Williams is published by Parthian

Sophie Buchaillard

Ten years after her short story collection Second-Hand Rain, which was shortlisted for the Sabotage Short Story Award, and long listed for the Edge Hill Prize and the Frank O’Connor International Prize, Georgia Carys Williams returns with a debut novel.

Unspeakable Beauty is the story of Violet Hart, a little girl growing up on the Welsh coast, in a home skirting the edge of a wild common.

Her life is shaped by familiar faces she has known since birth; and Secret Haven, a back garden turned mythical kingdom by her childhood imagination.

There, she plays with her best friend Melody, dreams of a career as a famous ballerina, and grows surrounded by the love of her parents, a down to earth and dependable couple, sturdy as the land.


Then, Melody, the friend she has always known, relocates with her parents to another city; and shortly after, Violet’s mother dies from a sudden heart attack.

Just like that, the foundations of her childhood are swept away, pushing Violet into a quiet state which mirrors the stillness of the house she now shares with her introverted and aggrieved father.

Meanwhile, around her, people change and relationships evolve, making Violet feel more and more disconnected from her own emotions.

The only constant that remains in her life is Ms Madeline’s School of Dance, a tangible connection to the friendship and maternal presence she has lost.

One step at a time: pas-de-deux, jeté, entre-chat, Violet learns to express herself through the body, pushing herself more and more, embracing the characters she performs on stage, expressing, through them, the full range of human emotions.

At one of the shows, she catches the attention of Theo, a ballet aficionado. Although he is much older, their relationship grows rapidly, and in secret. The man she initially sees as a Prince Charming soon reveals a darker side.


Promoted as a cautionary tale about the importance of using one’s voice, Unspeakable Beauty is reminiscent, in parts, of Black Swan and The Picture of Dorian Grey, through a cast of conflicted characters who wrestle with their respective passions, almost to breaking point.

Unspeakable Beauty is an elegant psychological exploration of obsessive behaviours, be that the physical and psychological demands placed on an aspiring ballerina; or the predatory tendencies of a man who comes to objectify a woman made vulnerable by her quiet nature.

Beyond the precision of language and intricate attention to details which make Unspeakable Beauty a lyrical, compelling and addictive read, two things stood out for me in Williams’ novel.


As a former ballet student myself, the level of insight the book provides about the requirements placed on the life of an aspiring dancer, the sacrifices made at an early age, the physical demands – in particular the description of what it takes to ‘break the shoes’ – and the total dedication needed when practising for a show or to be considered for a prestigious ballet school, conveyed the life with a level of authenticity which suggests some detailed research on the part of the author.


The other noticeable element of the book, for me, was the way Williams successfully unpicks the psychological state that makes the grooming of young girls so common, and leads girls and women to becoming trapped into abusive relationships.

As a mother, the book played with my sense of powerlessness when watching teenage girls growing in the era of mobile phones, and had me wishing anxiously for Violet to find her voice.

In this aspect, the novel is very much of its time, and it occurs to me how much of a powerful statement it makes, for young girls in particular, but also anyone who has ever experienced abuse.

Reading the novel, I came to thinking about all the conversations it could help facilitate. So much so, that I’d recommend every teacher, every parent, and every young girl reads it, immediately.

In summary, Unspeakable Beauty is a stunning literary novel, with a dark psychological edge, that takes the themes of grief and obsession and renders them into a contemporary cautionary tale for our age, warning of the dangers of being too quiet in a world increasingly filled with loud voices.

Unspeakable Beauty by Georgia Carys Williams is published by Parthian. It is available from all good bookshops.

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