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The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
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The Painted Girls (edition 2013)

by Cathy Marie Buchanan

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8487410,600 (3.7)68
Member:susan11
Title:The Painted Girls
Authors:Cathy Marie Buchanan
Info:Wheeler Publishing (2013), Edition: Lrg, Hardcover, 592 pages
Collections:historical fiction
Rating:****
Tags:fiction, first edition, france, ballet, degas

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The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

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Showing 1-5 of 75 (next | show all)
The Painted Girls is a good book, with interesting characters. It is a novel about the three Van Goetham sisters in Paris of the 1880's. They are exceedingly poor and struggle daily for the most basic subsistence.

The oldest, Antoinette, used to be one of the petit rats, one of the little girls hired by the ballet. Now she does walk-on roles in the Opera, trying to help her mother, an absinthe-addicted laundress, support her younger sisters. She's also in love with a young man who she believes loves her truly, but her sister believes is dangerous. Her younger sister Marie is just starting at the ballet as a petit rat. She is talented and, while not beautiful, is chosen by the artist Edgar Degas as model and muse. The youngest sister, Charlotte is an excellent dancer, and follows her sisters into the Opera.

The book goes back and forth between chapters narrated by Antoinette and Marie. We follow their efforts to survive, to keep going, to have enough to eat - no matter what it takes.

It wasn't until I read the author's notes that I realized that the Van Goethem sisters actually existed - that Marie was, in fact, the model for Degas' sculpture 'Little Dancer, aged fourteen'; that Charlotte had a successful ballet career that lasted until 1954; that Antoinette's lover (although they never met in real life) was the defendant in a sensational murder trial.

I found this book to be well researched, the characters are beautifully drawn. Nothing is sugar coated - it was a tough and often unfair life. There are no 'AHA' redemptive moments, where someone realizes the error of her ways. There is no knight in shining armour to offer true love and a way out. There is, however, the thread of loyalty, devotion and sisterly love throughout. ( )
  EvelynBernard | Mar 5, 2017 |
Who hasn't seen at least a reproduction of Degas's artwork of ballerinas? He painted other scenes but he frequented the Paris Opera and sketched and painted the young ballerinas at practise, on stage and at rest. One of his most famous works is not a painting however; the statuette of Little Dancer Age 14 was done in wax and clothed. The model for that work, Marie Van Goethem, is one of the principal characters in this book. Like The Girl With the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier it is fascinating to learn the story behind famous works of art.

When the father of Antoinette, Marie and Charlotte Van Goethem dies suddenly poverty hits the family and the three girls have to find ways to earn money. Antoinette, the oldest, is already a dancer at the Paris Opera and she takes Marie and Charlotte there to be accepted as students. Even though they are studying they will be paid a small salary. Antoinette soon finds a part in a stage production of Emile Zola's L'Assommoir which pays more than she could expect to make at the Opera. Antoinette is courted by a young man who is also in the play and she is completely besotted by him. Marie catches the attention of Edgar Degas who asks her to come model for him in his studio which will earn some extra money for the household. Charlotte is still young and naive but shows promise as a dancer. When Antoinette's young man is arrested for murder Antoinette believes he is innocent but Marie is convinced he is guilty. This drives a wedge between the sisters which almost undoes their relationship. The girls face many trials but I don't think I am giving too much away to say there is a happy ending.

There were three narrators for this audiobook. Cassandra Campbell and Julia Whelan did Antoinette and Marie (or perhaps vice versa) and Danny Campbell read excerpts from Le Figaro between the major sections. It is an interesting way to structure a spoken work which revolves between the two sisters. One of the readers had a somewhat juvenile inflection but perhaps that is the way the book was written. Of the two I certainly preferred the narrator who did Marie's portion. ( )
  gypsysmom | Mar 2, 2017 |
The characters are one dimensional and I could not empathize with any. The secondary characters came off as parodies of French stereotypes. There is no appendix for the dozens of ballet and French terms thrown about, which is often, so if you do not speak rudimentary French or know a bit about ballet, you will be lost. And how could a book that takes place in Paris be su un-Parisienne? The city is turned into a weak third character that seems as unappealing as Marie's roasted chicken. Avoid. ( )
  byshieldmaiden | Jan 17, 2017 |
(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 |
Showing 1-5 of 75 (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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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 chatted with LibraryThing members from Jul 12, 2010 to Jul 25, 2010. Read the chat.

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