The Painted Girls: A Novel

The Painted Girls: A Novel

by Cathy Marie Buchanan
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Overview

The Painted Girls: A Novel by Cathy Marie Buchanan

A heartrending, gripping novel about two sisters in Belle Époque Paris and the young woman forever immortalized as muse for Edgar Degas’ Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.

1878 Paris. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventeen francs a week, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.

Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. There she meets a wealthy male patron of the ballet, but might the assistance he offers come with strings attached? Meanwhile Antoinette, derailed by her love for the dangerous Émile Abadie, must choose between honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde. 

Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of “civilized society.” In the end, each will come to realize that her salvation, if not survival, lies with the other.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594632297
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/04/2014
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 214,489
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Cathy Marie Buchanan is the author of the national bestseller The Day the Falls Stood Still, a Barnes & Noble Recommends selection and an Indie Next pick. She lives in Toronto.

Read an Excerpt

Marie


Monsieur LeBlanc leans against the doorframe, his arms folded over a belly grown round on pork crackling. A button is missing from his w aistcoat, pulled too tight for the threads to bear. Maman wrings her  hands—laundress’s hands, marked by chapped skin, raw knuckles. “But, Monsieur LeBlanc,” she says, “we just put my dead husband in the ground.”

“It’s been two weeks, Madame van Goethem. You said you needed two weeks.” No sooner had Papa taken his last breath upon this earth than, same as now, Monsieur LeBlanc stood in the doorway of our lodging room demanding the three months’ rent Papa had fallen behind in paying since getting sick.

Maman drops to her knees, grasps the hem of Monsieur Le Blanc’s greatcoat. “You cannot turn us out. My daughters, all three good girls, you would put them on the street?”

“Take pity,” I say, joining Maman at his feet.

“Yes, pity,” says Charlotte, my younger sister, and I wince. She plays her part too well for a child not yet eight.

Only Antoinette, the oldest of the three of us, remains silent, defiant, chin held high. But then she is never afraid.

Charlotte grasps one of Monsieur LeBlanc’s hands in both her own, kisses it, rests her cheek against its back. he sighs heavily, and it seems tiny  Charlotte—adored by the pork butcher, the watchmaker, the crockery  dealer—has saved us from the street.

Seeing his face shift to soft, Maman says, “Take my ring,” and slips her wedding band from her finger. She presses it to her lips before placing it in Monsieur LeBlanc’s waiting hand. Then with great drama her palms fly to the spot on her chest just over her heart. Not wanting him to see in my eyes what I know about Maman’s feelings for Papa, I turn my face away. Whenever Papa mentioned he was a tailor, apprenticed to a master as a boy, Maman always said, “The only tailoring you ever done is stitching the overalls the men at the porcelain factory wear.”

Monsieur LeBlanc closes his fingers around the ring. “Two weeks more,” he says. “You’ll pay up then.” Or a cart will haul off the sideboard handed down to Papa before he died, the table and three rickety chairs the lodger before us left behind, the mattresses stuffed with wool, each handful worth five sous to a pawnbroker. Our lodging room will be empty, only four walls, grimy and soot laden, deprived of a lick of whitewash. And there will be a new lock on the door and the concierge, old Madame Legat, fingering the key in her pocket, her gaze sorrowful on the curve of Charlotte’s pretty cheek. Of the three of us, only Antoinette is old enough to remember nights in a dingy stairwell, days on the boulevard haussmann, palms held out, empty, the rustle of the silk skirts passing by. She told me once how it was that other time, when Papa sold his s ewing machine to pay for a tiny white gown with crocheted lace, a small white coffin with a painting of two cherubs blowing horns, a priest to say the Mass.

I am the namesake of a small dead child, Marie, or Marie the First as I usually think of her. Before her second birthday, she was rigid in her cradle, eyes fixed on what she could not see, and then I  came—a gift, Maman said—to take her place.

...

“God bless,” Charlotte calls out to Monsieur LeBlanc’s retreating back.

Maman pushes herself up like an old woman, staggering under the heft of widowhood, daughters, monies owed, an empty larder. She reaches into her apron pocket, tilts a small bottle of green liquid to her lips, wipes her mouth with the back of her hand.

“We owe for the week’s milk, and there’s enough for that?” Antoinette says, chin jutting.

“Haven’t seen a sou from you in a month. Still a walker-­on at the Opéra, at seventeen years old. You got no idea about work.” Antoinette pulls her lips tight, looks down her nose at Maman, who does not let up. “A measly two francs they pay you for loitering on the stage,” she says, “and only if whatever costume the wardrobe mistress pressed happens to fit. Too high and mighty for the washhouse. Nothing good will come of you. I can see that.”

“Like mother, like daughter, no?” Antoinette says, holding a pretend bottle to her lips.

Maman lifts the absinthe the smallest bit more but only twists the cork back into place. “You’ll take your sisters to the dance school at the Opéra in the morning,” Maman says to Antoinette; and light comes into Charlotte’s face. Three times a week she says how the Paris Opéra is the greatest opera house in all the world.

Sometimes Antoinette shows Charlotte and me the steps she learned at the Opéra dance school, back in the days before she was told not to come back, and we stand with our heels together, our feet turned out, bending our knees.

“Knees over your toes,” Antoinette would say. “That’s it. A plié.”

“What else?” usually Charlotte asked, but sometimes it was me. The evenings were long and dull, and in the wintertime a few pliés in a bit of candlelight took away the shivering before curling up on our mattress for the night.

Antoinette taught us battements tendus, ronds de jambe, grands battements, on and on. She would stoop to adjust the ankle of Charlotte’s outstretched foot. “Such feet,” she would say. “Feet of a dancer, pet.”

Almost always it was Charlotte she bothered to correct. Maman liked to say how it was time I earned my keep, how even the girls in the Opéra dance school were handed seventy francs each month, but already Papa had slapped his hand down on the table. “enough,” he said. “Marie is to stay put, in Sister evangeline’s classroom, where she belongs.” Later, alone, he whispered into my ear that I was clever, my mind meant for studying, that Sister evangeline had bothered to wait for him outside the porcelain factory and tell him it was so. Still I joined in, and even if Antoinette said my back was supple and my hips were loose, even if I sometimes found myself dancing my own made­up dance when the music of the fiddler down below came up through the planks of the floor, we both knew Papa’s word would hold. her eyes were on tiny Charlotte, extending a leg behind her in an arabesque and then lifting it high above the floor, all the while Antoinette making adjustments and calling out, “Arms soft. Knee straight. Neck long. That’s it. You got a neck like Taglioni, pet.”

On Antoinette’s name day when she was eight, Papa brought out from inside the sleeve of his coat a figurine of Marie Taglioni, hovering barefoot, wings spread, only the toes of one foot upon the earth. Nearly fifty years ago she claimed a place for herself in the heart of every Parisian by dancing La Sylphide, and still her legend lived on. Antoinette kissed the tiny face of the figurine a dozen times and put it high up on the mantelshelf to be adored. Anyone looking there would have seen it, a tiny sylph, beside Maman’s old clock. But then Antoinette failed the examination that would have promoted her from the second set of the quadrille to the first and was dismissed from the Paris Opéra Ballet for arguing with Monsieur Pluque, the director of dance. “That mouth of yours,” Maman said.

“I only said to him I could make more fouettés en tournant than Martine, that my footwork was superior to that of Carole.” I could picture Antoinette standing there, arms crossed, insolence on her face. “I’m ugly and skinny, that’s what he says back to me.”

The figurine was gone from the mantelshelf the next day, maybe to the pawnbroker, maybe smashed upon the cobblestones.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Deeply moving and inventive . . . Buchanan's evocative portrait of 19th-century Paris brings to life its sights, sounds, and smells, along with the ballet hall where dancers hunger for a place in the corps. . . . But nothing is more real or gripping than the emotions of Marie and her older sister Antoinette. . . . Their tale is ultimately a tribute to the beauty of sisterly love."—People

“The ethereal ballerina from Degas’s famed sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen comes to life in this richly imagined novel. Amid the glamour of tutus and art emerges a surprisingly gritty story of survival in the gutters of Belle Epoque Paris.”—Entertainment Weekly

“In The Painted Girls, a historically based work of fiction rich with naturalistic details of late-19th-century Paris, Cathy Marie Buchanan paints the girls who spring from the page as vibrantly as a dancer’s leap across a stage. . . .  A compelling story of yearning for love in the face of ugliness and brutality. Wheeling out of control, the two older girls descend from their pretty pirouettes to misery, their mutual affection torn apart for a time. Nevertheless, Buchanan makes us feel they are good at heart. The Painted Girls is a captivating story of fate, tarnished ambition and the ultimate triumph of sister-love.”—Susan Vreeland, The Washington Post

"In this compelling tale, we meet a fictionalized Marie Van Goethem (one of the young dancers who posed for Degas) and her sister, whose journeys out of the Paris slums evoke the light and the dark of the Belle Epoque."—Good Housekeeping

"Two impoverished sisters in Belle Epoque Paris enter the world of the ballet (Degas) and theater (Zola) but also face temptations that can lure young women in the demimonde."—USA Today

“In “The Painted Girls,” a carefully researched, deeply imagined historical novel…the Belle Époque comes to vibrant, often aching life.”—Chicago Tribune

"[Buchanan] treats her girls with far greater care than do their contemporaries, seeing worth in them despite their misjudgments and calamities.”—Christian Science Monitor

“Buchanan does more than just write about what she knows; that same verisimilitude wends through the whole book: the grinding poverty in which the sisters live, the interaction between them, the daily life of a Parisian all come to life in her capable hands.”—Huffington Post

"A dark valentine to Belle Epoque Paris."—Vogue

"Buchanan brings the unglamorous reality of the late 19th-century Parisian demimonde into stark relief while imagining the life of Marie Van Goethem, the actual model for the iconic Degas statue Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. . . . Buchanan does a masterful job of interweaving historical figures into her plot, but it is the moving yet unsentimental portrait of family love, of two sisters struggling to survive with dignity, that makes this a must-read."—Kirkus (starred)

"Engrossing depiction of Belle Epoque Paris."—Publishers Weekly

"The Painted Girls is historical fiction at its finest, awash in period details of the Paris of Degas and Zola while remaining, at its heart, the poignant story of two sisters struggling to stay together even as they find themselves pulled toward different, and often misunderstood, dreams. Cathy Marie Buchanan also explores the uneasy relationship between artist and muse with both compassion and soul-searing honesty.”—Melanie Benjamin, author of Alice I Have Been and The Aviator's Wife

"Part mystery, part love story, The Painted Girls breathes heart and soul into a fascinating era of the City of Lights.  One can't help but be drawn in by this compelling and lyrical tale of sister love and rivalry."—Heidi W. Durrow, author of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

“Beautiful and haunting. From the first page, I was swept up and enchanted.”—Amy Greene, author of Bloodroot

“Will hold you enthralled as it spools out the vivid story of young sisters in late 19th century Paris struggling to transcend their lives of poverty through the magic of dance. I guarantee, you will never look at Edgar Degas’s immortal sculpture of the Little Dancer in quite the same way again.”—Kate Alcott, author of The Dressmaker

“If you’ve ever looked at a famed piece of art and wondered what the artist was thinking or who the subjects really were, you will be swept away by The Painted Girls. Wonderfully imagined and masterfully rendered, this story of 19th century Paris and life behind the scenes of its legendary Opera House will change the way you see the world of ballet, art and the lives it portrays.”—Shilpi Somaya Gowda, New York Times and internationally bestselling author of Secret Daughter

"Sisters, dance, art, ambition, and intrigue in late 1800s Paris. The Painted Girls offers the best of historical fiction: compelling characters brought backstage at l’Opera and front and center in Degas’ studio. This one has 'book club favorite' written all over it."—Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Wednesday Sisters
 

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

1878 Paris. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventeen francs a week, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.

Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. There she meets a wealthy male patron of the ballet, but might the assistance he offers come with strings attached? Meanwhile Antoinette, derailed by her love for the dangerous Émile Abadie, must choose between honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde.

Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of "civilized society." In the end, each will come to realize that her salvation, if not survival, lies with the other.

ABOUT CATHY MARIE BUCHANAN

Cathy Marie Buchanan is the author of the national bestseller The Day the Falls Stood Still, a Barnes & Noble Recommends selection and an Indie Next pick. She lives in Toronto.

A CONVERSATION WITH CATHY MARIE BUCHANAN

Q. Did you always intend The Painted Girls as a tribute to sisterhood?

I once heard the great Canadian writer Alistair MacLeod comment that he did not so much buy into the old adage “write what you know” as a broader notion of writing about one’s obsessions. I’d take it a step further and suggest that, deliberate or not, a writer’s preoccupations find their way onto the page. When I first put pen to paper, my intention was to set down the story of the model for Degas’s beloved sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. But soon enough her sister was demanding equal time. I think now it was inevitable that my story would hold up a magnifying lens to the mysteries of sisterhood—the rivalry, the love. With three sisters of my own—each deeply loved by me despite alarming teenage rows—I have often found my mind lingering, wondering, stuck. What is it that provokes rivalry among sisters? And why is it so many of us the world over find solace in the strong arms of the sisters we love, that we so readily open our own? It was quite unintentional—though no accident—that I found myself pondering these questions as I imagined the story of Marie and Antoinette.

Q. Were you a dancer?

I studied classical ballet quite seriously throughout high school and during the early years of university, and danced with a small regional company for a number of years. I am a Licentiate of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing and taught young dancers in order to pay for my own ballet lessons.

One of the great pleasures of researching The Painted Girls was attending a class of fourteen–year–old girls at the Paris Opéra Ballet School. Though thirty years and a continent away from my own days at the barre, I was struck by how familiar the exercises, the ballet mistress’s corrections, and the music were to me. It made me think Marie’s experience in the classroom and on the stage was much more similar to my own than one might expect.

Q. Were you surprised to learn of the exploitation of the young dancers at the Paris Opéra Ballet in the nineteenth century?

I first learned about Marie van Goethem when I happened on a BBC documentary called The Private Life of a Masterpiece: Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. To discover that back in 1881 when Little Dancer was first exhibited, the public had linked it with a life of vice and young girls for sale certainly flew in the face of my modern–day notions of the sculpture and of ballet as an art. Today Little Dancer is beloved, an object of pilgrimage for young dancers that world over, and ballet is by and large considered a high–minded pursuit. So yes, I was very much surprised to learn about the sway the abonnés held at the Opéra and their often less than honorable intentions with the young ballet girls. What ruffled my feathers most, though, was the way those privileged gentlemen so fully sidestepped any culpability. Forget their advantages of education and wealth. Forget that the ballet offered a chance for a poor girl to escape the gutter, to find some semblance of security. Any blame for the questionable liaisons fell squarely on the shoulders of the ballet girls. In the historical record, they are accused time and again of corruption and depravity, of having the “lightest of morals.”

Q. What is your writing routine?

I write every day, sitting down at the computer as soon as my boys leave the house for school. There does not appear to be any rhyme or reason to when I write well. The objective is always the same, to lose myself in the words I am setting on the page. And I have had moments when I look up from the computer, dazed. It takes a second to grasp that I am sitting at my desk, another second to decide: Is it morning or afternoon? Have I had lunch? My head is lost in another time, another place, another life. It’s when the best writing comes.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • If I had a bit of nerve, I would tell him I want to look pretty instead of worn out. I want to be dancing instead of resting my aching bones. I want to be on the stage, like a real ballet girl, instead of in the practice room, even if it is not yet true. Marie thinks this while pondering the paintings in Degas’s workshop. What kind of art is Degas interested in making? Why are his innovations so important for the history of art? Do you see empathy or hostility toward the dancers in his artworks?
  • In what ways is Degas sympathetic toward Marie? In what ways is he not? Does his interest in Marie ultimately give her feelings of hope and possibility, or feelings of inadequacy?
  • “Tonight, roasted chicken in your belly,” Maman says, loosening her arms, stepping back from me. “And always, an angel in your heart.” Marie’s mother often reminds her that the spirit of Marie the First, her older sister who died in infancy, is with her. How is Marie affected by her namesake? Why, at the end of the book, does she tell the old man at the tavern her name is Marie the First?
  • Is Marie deluding herself in believing her hatred of Émile is justified? Once she sees he cannot be guilty of the second murder, is it fair for her to destroy the alibi provided by the calendar? To what extent is she looking after her own best interests when she burns it?
  • Sometimes I wonder, though, if for the very best ballet girls, the trickery is not a little bit real, if a girl born into squalor cannot find true grace in ballet. Marie thinks this while looking at her fellow ballet dancers on the Opéra stage. Does Marie experience true grace while dancing? Without the ballet can Marie be fully content?
  • Antoinette was too bold in speaking her mind to end up with her legs spread open for a slumming gentleman. Marie ponders this misconception after a posing naked with her knees parted on Monsieur Lefebrve’s sofa. What leads her to such an idea? Are such misconceptions common among sisters?
  • Émile consistently mistreats Antoinette. He forces himself upon her, and then tells her it’s her fault; he allows Pierre Gille to slap her, and then abandons her for him. Is Antoinette’s blind love for Émile realistic? Of all his wrongdoings, why is it a lie that finally makes her see the light?
  • In what instances does Antoinette’s bold temperament hinder her? When does it serve her well?
  • “Both are beasts. The physiognomies tell us . . . those two murderers are marked.” Degas says this to Marie after Émile is declared guilty of a murder she knows he did not commit. Why does Degas feel it is fair to judge the boys’ characters based on the way they look? What are some other moments in the book when people are judged based on appearance?
  • “No social being is less protected than the young Parisian girl—by laws, regulations, and social customs.” —Le Figaro, 1880. Why did Buchanan choose this quotation as the book’s epigraph? How does it relate to the story? In what ways are the van Goethem sisters unprotected?
  • I want to put my face in my hands, to bawl, for me, for Antoinette, for all the women of Paris, for the burden of having what men desire, for the heaviness of knowing it is ours to give, that with our flesh we make our way in the world. Marie thinks this while waiting to see Antoinette at Saint–Lazare. Is she correct in such thinking? To what extent does the sentiment hold true today?
  • What role does honesty play in this book? Do you support Antoinette’s decision to tell “one last lie” to Marie, the lie about Émile’s guilt? Does she go overboard with her refusal to tell even white lies by the end of the book?
  • In what ways are Marie and Antoinette good sisters to each other? In what ways are they not? Would the power of sisterhood have prevailed had Antoinette not found out Émile was unfaithful to her?
  • Have you seen Little Dancer? What were your impressions? Have they changed after reading The Painted Girls? How?
  • Will you recommend The Painted Girls to a friend? A sister? Why?
  • Customer Reviews

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    The Painted Girls: A Novel 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 64 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    The Painted Girls is a brilliantly written historical fiction set in Paris in the 1880's. A story about the lives of sisters trying to make their way through life under less than ideal circumstances. Do the girls have control over their destiny or is it fate that delegates their position in life? Intertwining the tale of the sisters' lives and true facts from historical documents, paintings, ballets, plays, sculpture, murder trials and more this notion is explored. A true page turner! This book filled with sister love and rivalry had me hooked from beginning to end. An utterly captivating read!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I'm fascinated by ballet, so was intrigued with the idea of the book about the 'behind-the-scenes' story of Degas's sculpture of the little dancer. While rich in details, the book felt disjointed and the characters remained flat. I can't even call the characters 2-dimensional, because I didn't get any picture at all, as if there were no substance to Marie or to Antoinette. The relationship between Marie the little ballerina and Degas didn't even make it to a side-story in my mind, much to my disappointment. On the other hand, the book succeeded in depicting the incredible vulnerability of being female, poor, and young at that time. It made me shudder to imagine my own daughter growing up in Marie's or Antoinette's shoes. And the afterwards about the historical people and events that inspired this book was very interesting.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Cathy Marie Buchanan has made Degas' paintings come alive. The juxtaposition of the ugly, gritty backstage life of the Paris Theater life in the late 1800s with the beauty and grandeur of the stage creates a very full, rich world. I would love to have an illustrated version with all of the works of art alluded to.
    merlin1951 More than 1 year ago
    One of the best books I have read in awhile. As said, a Must Read. 
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Did not enjoy this book at all, unable to finish. Although the plot seemed interesting, the book in fact was rather tedious and boring. Kept on waiting for the story to " pick up", I had to force myself to continue reading it. I could not appreciate the language the author used to depict the story, Ifound it fustrating. I am in a bookclub with 6 other women, all of them agreed, and only one person finished the novel.
    musiclistener More than 1 year ago
    As a dancer, I was expecting more along the line of the dancing. The story line placed around the dancers was hard to take. The real facts revealed in the authors notes were very interesting and probably the best part.
    The_Book_Goddess More than 1 year ago
    Best book I have read in a long time. The reason I was drawn to the book was because of the connection to Degas and his paintings. I thought it would be interesting to learn more about the girl who was made famous as the little ballerina. What I got was so much more than that...the book painted a vivid picture of what it was like to live in Paris in the late 1800's, the daily struggles to survive, the responsibilities that fell to mere children and provided an honest reflection on the Paris ballet. The book is also written extremely well, which is so important. This book easily could've been dry and flat but this book just came alive. I honestly had trouble putting it down and just couldn't turn the pages fast enough to find out how these girls' lives would turn out. This should definitely be on a must-read list for this year!
    elle17 More than 1 year ago
    I really completely enjoyed this book. Historical facts combined with believable fiction make for an excellent read. 
    Anonymous 7 months ago
    Loved it and couldn't put it down
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I picked this novel up on sale for about $2, an absolute steal. The description seemed interesting, so I was absolutely thrilled when it arrived, along with several other books I'd purchased. This was the first one out of the group I read, and it did not disappoint. I finished it in a day, because I simply couldn't put it down. The book wraps you up in it's story, and you feel that you are truly living in 1800's Paris, among the squalor and upward struggles these girls endure. The characters are rendered marvelously, so that they seem all the more real. Unlike the strict and defined traits most authors give their characters, these are young women of blurred lines. It does away with the imaginary world of clear lines most writers create, and immerses you in a world of gray. This book is a must have for readers who want to be laughing and left in tears, all within a few well-written chapters. Thank you, Ms Buchanan, for a masterpiece.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I had a hard time getting into this book as it was very slow moving. I think the characters were a bit shallow but they were children and it is a sad, depressing story.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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    camilledimaio More than 1 year ago
    To read is to learn, and to read is to be entertained. “The Painted Girls” by Cathy Marie Buchanan attempted to do both, and mostly hit the mark. The story details the lives of real life sisters Antoinette and Marie van Goethem, muses for the painter Edgar Degas at the Paris Opera House during the Belle Epoch. Their father is dead, their mother is an alcoholic, and the girls survive through a combination of dancing in the ballet, baking, sewing, modeling, and whoring. Two historic tales merge when the author Buchanan imaginatively fictionalizes a love affair between Antoinette and convicted murderer Emile Abadie. The book certainly took me in to the underbelly of a world of which I knew nothing, and I am always grateful for what I’ve learned. However, I felt that that the characters were always just a step away from the vibrancy that they could have had. For example, I was not drawn in to why Antoinette loved Emile. It was just supposed to be understood. I did not feel the girls’ exhaustion after rehearsals. I did not ache for their shame as they prostituted themselves. Everything was an almost feeling. I would have just liked to care a little more. Also missing was more information on their youngest sister, Charlotte, who actually went on to have the most successful career in the ballet. Having said that, it certainly kept me reading, and I enjoyed peeling back the curtain into the lives of the otherwise unknown dancers. One can only imagine how many other stories there are to tell.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Finchfeeder More than 1 year ago
    An excellent view into the lives of Paris' ballet dancers. This book inspired me to visit Palais Garnier in Paris last summer. I had to see where Marie danced ~ breathed and posed.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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    Chris-An More than 1 year ago
    The title and cover illustration promise Degas.  But in reality, this is not about Degas.  It is about the Parisienne ballet girls of the 1880s.  So for the first 150 or so pages, I was disappointed.  Just as I was about to put it down, the story of the sisters really kicked in and I was glad I finished the book.  The author's note explains the connect to Degas and I found the whole thing quite interesting.  But my gripe would be with an editor who did not caution about promising something you would not deliver.  A different title?  A different cover?  Perhaps calling it what Degas' famous art piece is called, "The Little Dancer" would have been a better title and would have tipped off the reader as to the real theme of the book.  But a good book nevertheless.  
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I give this book a three star because I think it will be good to certain readers. I was surprised but I did not finish this book. For some reason good story or not, it was not an easy read to me. I love to enjoy myself when I read. The historical fiction and the sister's lives captured me somewhat in the beginning, so I am shocked I gave up but I did.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I would definitely recommend! When you have viewed the paintings and statue your whole life it was so good to have a story to put with them. If you have been to Paris you will enjoy the references to the different landmarks. And if you haven't be sure to look up a map of Paris to get a feel for the city. I did love reading it very much.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago