Reviews and reactions

“When the don met the dancer – this is the story of how Maynard Keynes, the great economist, fell for Lydia Lopokova, celebrity ballerina and Russian émigrée. And it is also a story of resistances, when a different kind of woman stepped into the settled world of Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, and all the rest of their English entourage. In Firebird, Susan Sellers restages the bright Bloomsbury years of the early 1920s as they have never been seen before.” RACHEL BOWLBY, author of Virginia Woolf and Fellow of the British Academy

“To read Susan Sellers’ wonderfully evocative novel is to be immersed in the cultural milieu of the Ballets Russes and Bloomsbury, informed and entertained in equal measure. Central character Lydia Lopokova is a marvellously sparky creation, maddening and original, who springs to life on the page as she stirs up and provokes Bloomsbury. Firebird is also a love story, charting the utterly unlikely relationship between Lydia and Maynard Keynes. It’s moving, amusing, brilliantly researched and utterly absorbing. A damn good read!” LESLEY GLAISTER, award-winning novelist and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

Firebird is a sensational love story of two fascinating people – Lydia Lokopova the star of the Russian ballet and John Maynard Keynes the famous economist. Think Natasha Rostova in War and Peace crossed with Emma from One Day. We travel, dazzled, between Imperial St Petersburg, Paris, the US, Madrid, to Bloomsbury, London. Lydia’s enchanting, hilarious conversations (Maynard is her ‘speaking book’, the ‘big walk’ of her life) match her impulsive gestures – climbing inside a hotel refrigerator to keep cool. A woman who likes two steaks placed on top of each other to leave room for potatoes and so full of life you will fall in love with her as quickly as Keynes. Susan Sellers is a true artist capturing scene after scene in such perfect colour that she could be a Bloomsbury painter. I could not put Firebird down!” MAGGIE HUMM, author of Snapshots of Bloomsbury and Talland House

Susan on Bookmark talking about Firebird

“Sellers turns history into story, encouraging her readers to imagine the lives behind both renowned and less eminent names of twentieth-century artists. Firebird is a must-read for those interested in the literary history of this period, shedding new light on Bloomsbury lives through deep research and richly imaginative prose. Noa Leach, Literature Cambridge

“An eminent Woolfian, a fine writer of fiction (…) Sellers has long embraced fiction, which, as she explains, is “the ideal medium for exploring the tangle of personal history and emotions that drives our reactions to others.” The story of Lydia Lopokova and of her relationship with Keynes provides abundant such tangles (….) Sellers places Lopokova at the heart of Bloomsbury, revealing how integral she was to Bloomsbury’s self-understanding when the group’s now most famous members were just starting to earn the acclaim that had been Lopokova’s for years. These conversations are as vivid as one might expect from the author of Vanessa and Virginia, and from a scholar so steeped in Bloomsbury’s lives and works. They bring Bloomsbury’s prickly denizens alive to a degree that few works of fiction or biography have done in recent memory. What Lopokova says to Lytton Strachey of Eminent Victorians applies as well to Sellers’s novel: “Your book on Victorians is most exquisite rub of research and invention I’ve read”. (….) Is it going too far to suggest that Sellers’s Lydia Lopokova will now be Lopokova in the way that Woolf predicted, in 1921, that Strachey’s Queen Victoria would forever be Victoria?” Todd Avery, International Virginia Woolf Miscellany

“This is a story about a culture clash between a group of intellectuals and artists in self-conscious rebellion against bourgeois society, and a woman who, without a thought, is even more adventurous, shocking and outrageous than they are…. It is impossible not to take Lopokova’s side as she bursts off the pages of the book:  like dance itself, she lives in the moment, luring and enchanting, ‘before flying away leaving a trail of feathers’.” Maggie Watson, Oxford Dance Writers

‘As well as being a love story, Firebird is filled with fascinating reflections on modernist aesthetics and its impact across the arts, especially by creating a dialogue between the textual, visual and performative. The narrative has a superb pace – a feature of Firebird is the precision with which it cuts through characters’ layers of everyday self-delusion while retaining empathy. (….) Sellers reveals the underlying emotional truth as it may best be expressed in fiction.’ Matthew Macer-Wright, The Virginia Woolf Bulletin

Interview with Susan talking about Firebird


Geneviève Simon in Arts Libre:

Susan Sellers traces with finesse the story of this unlikely marriage, which causes sparks to fly in Bloomsbury.

“In retracing the surprising love story between the brilliant thinker and artist who, at the age of ten, danced ‘The Nutcracker’ for Tsar Nicholas II, Susan Sellers skillfully draws attention to the paradoxes that ignite the Bloomsbury group, champions of liberty, casting them in a new light. (….)

Susan Sellers (…) draws on a novelist’s sensibility as well as her scholarly knowledge to explore what is at stake for Bloomsbury. As a result, she weaves a canvas that is both rich and convincing, allowing us entry to an iconic place and time. Her lively writing style, her sense of scene, her canny way of moving across time, the wicked evenhandedness with which she describes pettiness without lingering on it: Firebird is impossible to put down.”

Pascale Fauriaux in L’Écho Républican:

“The fabulous tale of an unlikely marriage.”

Stéphane Bret in La Cause Littéraire:

Firebird takes us into the secret world of the Bloomsbury Group and history of Russian dance shortly before the shock-waves of the October Revolution. Literary and artistic references abound and the reader learns a great deal, all the while enjoying this X-ray analysis of human emotion and desire. Totally recommended.”

Virginia Bloch-Lainé in Libération:

“After Vanessa and Virginia, a novel translated into sixteen languages (…) Susan Sellers broadens her focus beyond Virginia Woolf, her sister Vanessa Bell and the Bloomsbury Group to add Diaghilev, Russia, Paris, Picasso, his first wife the dancer Olga Khokhlova, Spain, St Petersburg, the growing renown of Charlie Chaplin (…) to create a wide-ranging, enjoyable, elegantly drawn canvas.”

Claudine Colozzi in Danses avec la plume:

“This whirlwind of a novel, which lifts the curtain on the love affair between star dancer of the Ballets Russes Lydia Lopokova and the famous economist Maynard Keynes (…) is one to slip into your suitcase this summer. (….)

Brimming with a wealth of characters, Firebird’ pays long overdue homage to the star dancer (….) Muse to Diaghilev, partner to Nijinsky, friend of Stravinsky and Picasso who painted her, Lydia has waited a long time for a beautiful novel to shed light on her incredible life.”