Enchanting and Heart Wrenching
The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan is now available in Canada and will be released January 10, 2013 in the United States. The tone of the book is set well by this quote from a French daily newspaper that introduces us to the first chapter—“No social being is less protected than the young Parisian girl—by laws, regulations, and social customs (Le Figaro, 1880).
The book is beautifully rendered. Nineteenth century Parisian ballet is painted with lyrical prose. “Each step must be given a particular character, your hallmark as a dancer.” The focus here is not on the rich and the glitter, but rather on the difficulties and challenges of the poor during this period of cultural and societal change. Much is here for lovers of dance, art and sculpture. The author’s love for ballet spills over the pages even in descriptions that hint at dance. “…dipping only her toe into sleep.” The corridors the book explores are the darker side of ballet, the artwork of Degas, and the survival skills of two sisters thrown into desperate situations.
The Author’s Note tells us that The Painted Girls is based on the early lives of three van Goethem sisters: Antoinette, Marie and Charlotte. After their father’s death, Marie and Charlotte are accepted into the dance school of the Paris Opera. The eldest sister, Antoinette, already employed there as an extra, Marie models for Degas as he sculpts Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. (Google an image of this sculpture for a better understanding of the plot and the statement Degas made in his sculpture.) Antoinette makes difficult choices between honest work and dangerous love. The book contains some salacious scenes used to depict the depravity of young Parisian girls used in beastly manners by men.
I thank LibraryThing for providing an ARC of The Painted Girls for my unbiased review.
Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont
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