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The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

The Painted Girls (edition 2013)

by Cathy Marie Buchanan

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6626414,511 (3.73)60
Title:The Painted Girls
Authors:Cathy Marie Buchanan
Info:Wheeler Publishing (2013), Edition: Lrg, Hardcover, 592 pages
Collections:historical fiction
Tags:fiction, first edition, france, ballet, degas

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The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan



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Ms. Buchanan charmed me with her first book “The Day the Falls Stood Still” and she did not disappoint with this book. She researches her topics well and incorporates her historical facts into a fascinating story giving the reader a taste of the reality of the life of her characters in the Paris of 1878.

The Van Goethem sisters never lived in the lap of luxury but as long as their father was alive the family managed to keep the wolf from the door. When he dies and their mother sinks further and further into the welcoming oblivion of absinthe, the girls are forced to do whatever is necessary to keep their little family together. Marie joins the Paris opera where she can earn 17 francs a week. As Marie throws herself completely into her ballet Antoinette turns to the stage. But soon their meager earnings are still not enough and Antoinette meets rakish Emile Abadie, forcing her to decide between struggling through life or choosing more profitable, but less reputable, way of earning a living for young Parisian girls of the time. As Antoinette becomes embroiled in the seedier side of Paris Marie earns a little extra money by modeling for Edgar Degas, becoming the model of choice for his little ballerina statues.

The story is told by both Marie and Antoinette, their very different voices adding to the story rather than deterring from it. If, like me, you wonder about the story behind a picture or painting, this book will satisfy that curiosity. The only negative thing I can say about this book is that I am sorry Ms. Buchanan turned her talents from a Canadian story to take us on a trip to Paris.
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  ChristineEllei | Jul 14, 2015 |
The author presents an interesting theory regarding Degas' aesthetic intentions - phrenology. Yet, I believe his work speaks for itself. Thus rendering Buchanan's premise highly implausible, however interesting. ( )
  BALE | Apr 11, 2015 |
This book of Historical Fiction is dark and depressing but seemingly truthful. The three sisters who are the featured characters did exist and Marie, the middle sister was the model for Degas' Little Dancers.

The life the sisters were forced to live was not uncommon for girls born into the social rung of the French ladder. How society and men in particular treated the improvised girls of this time is not so different as it is today. Fortunately girls of a certain age must attend school and not work at such a young age.

Thank you Ms. Buchanan for opening this reader's eye to such a disturbing time in history. ( )
  Gingersnap000 | Nov 18, 2014 |
Yes, I know....another bit of fiction built around famous artwork. Ho hum! Wait a minute! This novel apparently is closely tied to historical fact and is actually quite well done. The writing is straightforward, which I found to be true for this author's previous work. The characters are young, impoverished women who aspire to a better life found via the ballet, in particular, three sisters from a very poor family. Only one has real talent, and the other two try but fall into what was , apparently, a common path. Seeking to survive they model for artists, in this case, Degas, and must tolerate some really disgusting men, who nonetheless help them to provide sustenance to their family. The family of three really did exist, and the model for the Degas statuette referred to frequently was actually one of the sisters. Not a happy tale, and unfortunately quite realistic. Well done! ( )
  hemlokgang | Oct 25, 2014 |
At first I really liked this book, then I started to become quite frustrated with some of the language - Antoinette's slang and bad grammar in particular - and then I began to love it. Because of this, I am very glad I persevered. The linking of the story to the famous Degas works of art is skilfully handled. The descriptions of the lives of dancers and their hardships is very powerful. The sense of being there in Paris in the late 19th century is conveyed through all the senses. My final verdict - a very clever story, well worth the read. ( )
  rosiezbanks | Sep 12, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 65 (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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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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