The Painted Girls ~ Cathy Marie Buchanan
Publisher: Riverhead Books/Penguin USA
Rating: ««« ½
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.”
This is a gritty story of survival in the gutter of the Belle Époque in Paris. It was written in such a way that it felt as if I was transported back into the late 19th century Paris, back to a time of despair, poverty, where the poor would do anything to support themselves and their family. The tone of the book is dark, the dark side of Pairs, of ballet, of art. It was full of rich details, from the life of a petit rat, to that of a washerwoman, to that of lady of the night. The story is filled with both sisterly love and rivalry. I thought that Buchanan did a fantastic job building and developing the complicated relationship between the sisters.
Normally I am not a huge fan of the constant POV changes ... I find them to be extremely irritating and sometime downright confusing, pointless and even detrimental to the story. This however, was not the case with this novel. I actually enjoyed the dual POV approach for the majority of the novel. I think that Buchanan was able to successfully make each girl her own character and to have her own story while still intertwining throughout the story. It wasn't until the end of the book that the dual POV really started to bother me - when each girl was only given 1/2 a page at most before switching to the other.
It was a little slow paced for a while, it did not always hold my attention. I found that I was disappointed with the last quarter of the book - I really didn't like how the characters developed. I was a fan of Marie throughout the book until she started to fall apart, then I became annoyed with her. Immensely annoyed.
Overall, I would say that it was a decent read, however I feel that it could have been so much better.