The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Published: December 18, 2012Publisher: Harper Collins CanadaPages: 336Received: audio book from library (want to buy paperback copy)A gripping novel set in Belle Époque Paris and inspired by the real-life model for Degas’s Little Dancer Aged Fourteen and the era's most notorious criminal trials,
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.”
For someone who loved visiting Paris, this book was a wonderful way to revisit. Though it was set more often in the unsavory parts of Paris, it does feature many of the places I visited at age 14 during a trip to Paris.
Such an amazing combination of reading about the lives of these poor girls, Antoinette, Marie and Charlotte, who are just trying to make a better life for themselves, the inspirations for the masterpieces of Degas and the hidden truth about a dangerous young man.
Marie and Antoinette go through such emotional turmoil while having to grow up quickly to help the family out. Their father dies unexpectedly, their mothers turns to drink and they have to become a little more self reliant. Marie needs acceptance both in her family life and in her chosen profession of ballet, while Antoinette seems to yearn for a relationship and love - neither realize how their choices will affect their lives.
I was wondering how all of the stories would come together and it was a great way in which Ms. Buchanan kept the story moving by having it told from different POVs (including newspaper articles to explain the murders happening in Paris). Listening to the audiobook version was wonderful as you can actually picture the girls and the emotions they are feeling while listening to the sections narrated by the girls.
I found this book to be filled with quite a lot of research to complete the combination of a coming of age story mixed with romance and mystery. I adored learning about how the ballet works, about Paris in the 1800s and about Degas and his ballerina series.
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