The Painted Girls
September 1, 2013
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It’s been several weeks since I’ve read a book that actually is worth sharing with you. While The Painted Girls (C) by Cathy Marie Buchanan may not be a terrific read; it is the best of what I have read in the past month.
The characters, Marie, Antoinette and Charlotte van Goethem, are sisters who danced at the school of the Paris Opera in 1878. Edgar Degas painted and sculpted Marie between 1878 and 1881 and she is the ballerina portrayed in his most famous work Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. The author integrates fact with fiction in The Painted Girls.
Living in abject poverty and struggling to survive after the death of their father and the loss of their mother to alcohol, the van Goethem sisters learn to depend on each other. Antoinette, the eldest sister, fails the exam that would elevate her to the next level of ballerina. She takes on odd jobs and a small roll in a play to earn the money necessary to pay for their rent. While acting, she meets and falls in love with Emile, a young man of questionable character. Unwilling to recognize that his intentions toward her are not heartfelt or genuine, Antoinette becomes a shamed and unreliable person.
Marie, the middle sister, is a more talented dancer and shows potential for a ballet career in the Paris Opera. The painter, Edgar Degas, sketches the dancers as they practice. In private modeling sessions, he paints Marie capturing her essence while portraying her angst and suffering. At the same time, Monsieur Lefebvre becomes Marie’s wealthy “protector” providing her with all the extras a blooming ballerina could wish for. The price Marie pays for this relationship is self-destructive and demoralizing.
The Painted Girls follows Antoinette and Marie on their journey to hell and back. Buchanan paraphrases newspaper articles throughout the story that create a factual timeline of events. They are the glue that holds the novel together. While it wasn’t perfect, overall, I found The Painted Girls held my interest delivering an enjoyable novel that you might want to add to your bookshelf.