Saturday, March 23, 2013

Review: The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Format: Hardcover, 357 pages
Publication Date: January 10th 2013 

Synopsis (From the Publisher):
"A gripping novel set in Belle Époque Paris and inspired by the real-life model for Degas’s Little Dancer Aged Fourteen and a notorious criminal trial of the era. 
Paris. 1878. 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 seventy francs a month, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work—and the love of a dangerous young man—as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir. 
Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modelling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her
image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. Antoinette, meanwhile, descends lower and lower in society, and must make the choice between a life of honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde—that is, unless her love affair derails her completely. 
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."
My Thoughts:

Degas, ballet, vivid settings, life-like characters, and the tragic realities of 19th century Paris, mix these elements together and you have a mesmerizing story that will transport you back in time. In other words, you have Cathy Marie Buchanan's novel, The Painted Girls.

The story is told from two perspectives, Marie and Antoinette, two sisters faced with the hardships of 19th century Paris. With their father recently deceased, and an alcoholic mother drinking away their meager earnings, they must learn to make their own way in life while attempting to keep a semblance of integrity. The vivid portrayal of the lower class, with their speech, mannerisms, and environment was excellent. It was easy to imagine standing right next to the characters, watching the story unfold in person.

As the story progressed, Marie's point of view was definitely the most captivating. Learning about what truly went on behind the scenes of the Paris Opera was fascinating and heart breaking at the same time. To discover what these girls must have gone through to obtain a place in the ballet, and what happened when they did not, enhanced the emotional connection with each character.

Although Antionette's story became less engaging about half-way through the novel, it would have been harmful to the story had it been absent. The conflicting personalities of the sisters helped give an unbiased and truly objective narration of the story, which is something not easily achieved. Her fall from good society and struggle to find happiness evoked great sympathy on its own, but it was enhanced when reading Marie's narration.

The Painted Girls is a marvelous tale that will have you captivated by the Paris Opera just like the works of Degas has done for so many years. If you are a lover of ballet and Degas, or are merely looking for a well developed and consuming novel, this is the book you've been looking for.

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