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The Painted Girls: A Novel (edition 2013)

by Cathy Marie Buchanan

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8167211,155 (3.72)67
Member:sagustocox
Title:The Painted Girls: A Novel
Authors:Cathy Marie Buchanan
Info:Riverhead Hardcover (2013), Hardcover, 368 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

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(Fiction, Historical)

This is the story of sisters Antoinette and Marie van Goethem, who live with their widowed, absinthe addicted mother and younger sister, Charlotte, in Paris in 1878.

The only way out of their dire situation is if Marie makes it into the Paris Opera (her older sister Antoinette tried, but didn’t have the talent) as a ballet dancer. While at the dance school at the opera house, Marie comes to the attention of French Impressionist Edgar Degas. Subsequently, she serves as the model (clothed, and naked) for the artist’s famous statue, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.

This was an eyeopener for me as I had always associated ballet school with the well-to-do. This was not so in nineteenth-century France. 4 stars ( )
  ParadisePorch | Nov 1, 2016 |
Sorry, but this just didn't work for me. I couldn't sympathize with the characters. It may be an example of an audio production not helping the story come to life. When you really hear the characters whining, or being flip or sarcastic I think it is harder than reading it. And they repeated themselves...a lot. There was an act of gratuitous violence against an animal that I did not care for either. Just a very unhappy book, which may well be historically accurate, but it doesn't work for me. I read to be entertained, and while a book doesn't have to be all rainbows and unicorns, I don't need to be upset by it, there is enough sadness in real life. ( )
  MaureenCean | Feb 2, 2016 |
I picked this book up because a few book clubs were raving about it.

It took a little bit of time for me to get use to the author's writing style. While the story was interesting for the most part, I found it to be a bit cold and lacking in terms of character development and actual sister compassion beyond a handful of scenes. I am sure a good part of the story is a fairly realistic outlook of the times, especially the hardships that families have to go through to make ends meet.

I wonder what happened to the ambitious Marie who heard the music in her mind and danced to it... going from a young girl starting at the bottom of the class to being one of the top of the class and dreamt of being an etoile and doing whatever it took to get there (extra lessons, working super early at the bakery before class, etc). What happened to Marie?! It seemed like she just crumbled under the weight and imaginary guilt over her actions with Antoinette's calendar.

Antoinette is quite the character. She was such a dominating and mothering force of nature to her younger sisters, yet she was easily led astray by a boy who lavished her with attention. I can't fault her for that. She like Marie totally became a shadow of their former selves as time went on.

I think more focus should have been on the history and art of the time period, especially more on the artists of the time. Like the famous ballerinas and artists, like Monsieur Degas.

Overall, a decent read. Could do with more character development of the secondary characters. But at least the ending was fairly optimistic. ( )
  Dream24 | Jan 6, 2016 |
Sorry, but this just didn't work for me. I couldn't sympathize with the characters. It may be an example of an audio production not helping the story come to life. When you really hear the characters whining, or being flip or sarcastic I think it is harder than reading it. And they repeated themselves...a lot. There was an act of gratuitous violence against an animal that I did not care for either. Just a very unhappy book, which may well be historically accurate, but it doesn't work for me. I read to be entertained, and while a book doesn't have to be all rainbows and unicorns, I don't need to be upset by it, there is enough sadness in real life. ( )
  MaureenCean | Oct 4, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 73 (next | show all)
The Painted Girls is a quick and cinematic read that is hard to put down, destined to be hotly debated book-club fodder across the country...Buchanan’s complete immersion in the time period and setting is obvious, and the reader is quickly present in the city, with its glamour, grit, hardships and peculiarities. An author’s note at the end of the book details exactly what is taken from historical record and what was created or embellished for the story.... It was a drag that this part of the narrative didn’t veer from the obvious, but it’s a small thing. For the overall story is a tremendous achievement, and the book is fast-paced leap around Paris at a unique time in its history.
 
The reader is completely absorbed in the struggle of Marie to rise above her circumstances. It has been said that the great engine of fiction is desire, the terrible urgent want of characters for what they do not have. This is vividly clear in the case of the van Goethem sisters, and that want makes for a strong, suspenseful narrative. The narrative drive is somewhat muted by the author’s prose style, however — her sentences have a tendency to carry just a smidgen too much detail. “Monsieur Degas’s lips press tight, and then his eyebrows pull together, the ends closest to his nose lifting up,” runs a characteristic sentence. Metaphors can also be laboured, as when the “harsh tang of fear” is compared to the “skin of a walnut.” The effect is sometimes of a clotted prose.....The question remains: can Buchanan’s characters defy that milieu and defy the laws of Zola? It is a question left in doubt until almost the last page of this convincing, heartfelt story.
 
Reminiscent of Tracy Chevalier’s novel Girl with a Pearl Earring, Cathy Marie Buchanan’s second novel tells the fascinating story of the young 19th-century Parisian ballerina who posed for Edgar Degas’ famous sculpture Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen. But while Chevalier’s novel (about the inspiration for the eponymous painting) is entirely imaginative, Buchanan’s meticulously researched book is based largely on historical record.
 
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For Larry, always
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Monsieur LeBlanc leans against the doorframe, his arms folded over a belly grown round on pork crackling.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
A heart-rending, gripping novel inspired by the real life model for Degas's Little Dancer Aged 14. 

It’s 1878, Belle Époque Paris.  Following the death of their overworked father, the three Van Goethem sisters find their lives upended.  What small pay their mother earns as a laundress disappears down the absinthe bottle, and without their father’s wages, eviction and destitution seem imminent.  With few options for work, fourteen-year-old Marie and her younger sister Charlotte are dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant 17 francs a week, the girls will be trained to enter the famous Ballet.  Older sister Antoinette, age seventeen, has already been dismissed from the Ballet on account of her sharp tongue, but finds employment—and the love of  the dangerous Émile Abadie—acting as an extra in a stage adaptation of Emile Zola’s Naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.

Marie throws herself into dance, counting on hard work and natural ability to raise her from the gutter, but the competition to become one of the famous étoiles, at whose feet flowers are thrown nightly, is fierce, and she is forced to turn elsewhere to supplement her meager wages.  Though ill at ease with her looks, she is soon enough modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized in his controversial sculpture, Little Dancer Aged 14.  Antoinette, meanwhile, descends lower and lower into Paris 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, unwavering even as Émile is linked to a brutal murder, derails her completely.

Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, and inspired by the real life model for Degas’s Little Dancer Aged 14 and the era’s most notorious criminal trials, The Painted Girls is a tale of a family of remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of “civilized society.”
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In belle epoque Paris, the Van Goethem sisters struggle for survival after the sudden death of their father, a situation that prompts young Marie's ballet training and her introduction to a genius painter.

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Cathy Marie Buchanan is a LibraryThing Author, an author who lists their personal library on LibraryThing.

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Cathy Marie Buchanan chatted with LibraryThing members from Jul 12, 2010 to Jul 25, 2010. Read the chat.

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