Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Inspired by the real dancer that posed for Degas’ famous Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, the novel The Painted Girls follows the story of Marie and Antoinette van Goethem in Belle Époque era Paris.  Thrust into uncertain financial waters after the death of their father and unable to trust the work ethic of their absinthe addicted mother, the two girls find work on the stage: 14 year old Marie as a ballet trainee at the Paris Opéra, and 17 year old Antoinette as an extra in the play L’Assommoir.

While Marie trains furiously as a dancer, she catches the eye of Edgar Degas and soon begins modelling for him to help pay the rent.  As she ascends the ranks of the ballet, she catches the eye of a wealthy benefactor who seeks to “help” Marie, but at a cost.  In the meantime, Antoinette begins a torrid relationship with the charismatic Émile Abadie, an extra in L’Assommoir.  As the relationship grows more and more intense, Antoinette finds herself setting family duty aside in favor of Émile and refusing to listen to the advice of a concerned Marie, who see him as nothing but a criminal.  When Émile is accused of murder, Marie tries desperately to convince her sister that he is not the romantic ideal she adores, but a cold blooded killer.

I’ll say right off the bat that I really enjoyed this novel.  It’s the best kind of historical fiction, with so much attention to detail but also weaving a tale that is both poignant and compelling.  It reminded me a bit of The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier.  While only some of the details in this story are based in fact, Buchanan’s fiction keeps in line with the realities of the time period, so the struggles and difficulties faced by Marie and Antoinette are both realistic and believable. All in all, Buchanan creates a story that is, at its core, a tale about sisters and the lengths we will go for family.  You don’t have to be a fan of historical fiction to really enjoy this book – I highly recommend!

2 comments:

Cathy Marie Buchanan said...

Much thanks for this lovely review. So very appreciated.

Cathy Marie Buchanan said...

Much thanks for this lovely review. So very appreciated.