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The Painted Girls: A Novel (edition 2013)

by Cathy Marie Buchanan

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5285919,108 (3.74)47
Member:pharrm
Title:The Painted Girls: A Novel
Authors:Cathy Marie Buchanan
Info:Riverhead (2013), Kindle Edition, 368 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
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The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

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The Painted Girls is a story about three sisters living in 1880's Paris. Living In poverty three sisters, Annette, Marie and Charlotte try desperately to make ends meet. Annette works at first as a laundress while Marie and Charlotte train as ballerinas.
After catching the eye of the famous impressionist painter, Edgar Degas, Marie becomes the model for some of the most famous paintings of the age. But times are tough, especially for three poor sisters with a drunken mother. Squabbles and a dangerous love affair threaten to drive the sisters apart and further into squalor. ( )
  queencersei | Jul 16, 2014 |
Story of the young girl who posed for Degas and her two sisters who see ballet as one way out of a life of poverty in Paris in the late 1800's. Provides a good look into the hard life of ballerinas and some insight into the art world in Europe during this time. Writing is good, but at times I could not maintain my interest in the characters. ( )
1 vote CarterPJ | Jul 11, 2014 |
So many reviews have already been written, so I will just add that I thoroughly enjoyed this story of the Van Goethem sisters in 19th century Paris. ( )
  LynnB | Jun 29, 2014 |
Edgar Degas created a statuette entitled “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” and in the pages of The Painted Girls, author Cathy Marie Buchanan tells the story of not only the young model, Marie van Goethem but also that of her sisters, Antoinette and Charlotte. Living in the slums of Montmartre with an alcoholic mother the three girls, needing a steady income for survival, plan to be dancers at the Paris Opera. To become a dancer is a way for them to avoid the pitfalls of life on the streets, they start as Petit Rats with long hours of practice, learning to leap with grace and balance en pointe. Doing this they can earn enough to keep from starvation, but always there is the chance that their talent will advance them with the benefits of more money and a much better lifestyle.

As the story starts, 17 year old Antoinette has been dismissed from the Opera for rudeness and being wilful. Marie and Charlotte are just beginning as Petit Rats. Marie works hard and appears to be starting her climb, she catches the eye of the artist Degas and works on the side as his model. Charlotte at 7 is the baby of the family and is much more self-absorbed. A pretty but selfish child, she appears to be the natural dancer of the three.

The story unfolds by alternating the viewpoint between Antoinette and Marie, and there is a lot to take in. This appears to be not only the story of these sisters, but also of Paris in 1878. This is a gritty tale of the ballet, the brothels, the taverns, and the prisons of Paris. These girls have choices but hanging over their heads at all times is the need to survive.

This was a fascinating story, but personally I always felt a step or so removed from the characters. So while I appreciated this tale of fate and destiny and loved the setting, The Painted Girls did not captivate me to the point of becoming totally absorbed. In fact I felt so disengaged that I found myself frequently checking to see how many more pages were left in the book. I love to love or hate my characters, but indifference just leaves me cold. ( )
3 vote DeltaQueen50 | May 5, 2014 |
The quote from Le Figaro sums it up "No social being is less protected than the young Parisian girl -- by laws, regulations, and social customs." This historical fiction is about the van Goethem sisters, one of whom served as the model for some of Edgar Degas's works involving ballet girls. I was captivated by the way Cathy Marie Buchanan interwove tales of the poor of 19th century France, Emile Zola's scientific realism, the "science of psysiognomy, the social order at the Opera, family life and the justice system. What makes the book a complete 5 star read for me is that she includes on her website the pictures she discusses in the book: www.cathymariebuchanan.com/art
Well worth reading by anyone interested in art, psychology or sociology. ( )
  Citizenjoyce | May 4, 2014 |
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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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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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