Tuesday, December 11, 2012

G14 Book Review of The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Name of Book: The Painted Girls

Author: Cathy Marie Buchanan

ISBN: 978-1-59448-624-1

Publisher: Riverhead books

Type of book: Ballet, Paris, poverty, sisterhood, 1878-1881, 1895, based on true people, statue, looking at self, France, Degas, relationships, working

Year it was published: 2013


Its 1878. After their father's sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Left at the edge of destitution, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opera, where for a scant seventeen francs a week she will be trained to enter the famous Ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work in a stage adaption of Emile Zola's naturalist masterpiece L'Assomoir.

Soon, Marie is modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will be immortalized in the statue Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. Antoinette, derailed by her love for a dangerous man, must choose between honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde.

Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of "civilized society," In the end, each will come to realize that her salvation, if not her survival, lies with the other.


Antoinette is the elder sister and I would have to describe her as someone who's as tough as nails, while Marie is the intellectual gentle younger sister. I would have to guess that Antoinette feels burdened and perhaps isn't allowed to show the side where she could be taken care of instead of taking care of others. Marie reads and understands things, but she has a thin skin and I often think that perhaps she belongs to a class above hers. Basically I could describe her as a duckling struggling to find a place among moles. She wants to have a happy ending and to escape the fate that physiognomy has assigned her.


Family and other people in life are very important for survival: Marie needed Antoinette to survive just in her daily existence, while Antoinette needed her sisters and family just to feel needed. It is sad that Antoinette was forced to grow up so quickly and that she had to go through these many things.


The story is written in first person narrative from alternating points of view of both Marie and Antoinette. They are very clear with their thoughts, ideas, struggles and desires: Antoinette wanting to be loved and taken care of, while Marie wanted the same thing, as well as a desire to escape the fate she is imprisoned in.

Author Information:

Cathy Marie Buchanan is the author of the national bestseller The Day the Falls Stood Still, a Barnes & Noble Recommends selection and an Indie Next pick. She lives in Toronto.


The writing and the character voices are engaging. I wanted to like it, but part of me felt neutral about the book. I'm really unsure why. I would guess that the book didn't touch my emotions. The writing style, voices, descriptions of Paris of the poor as well as vocabulary chosen for Antoinette and Marie is very skillful and realistic. In some ways the story was a tad bit predictable for me, although interesting as well. One can learn a lot about the poor class in this novel, the thoughts, dreams and desires they must have had. This isn't a romantic Cinderella story, nor is it a tragic story. The class boundaries are firmly in place not allowing the sisters to advance higher, but instead it shows the daily struggle of their lives as they tried to survive. In some cases I wish that the author would have explained some vocabulary such as absinthe or perhaps some pictures of the dancing movements in French, like how the movements looked like.

Quick notes: I won this book on goodreads.com thus this review will appear in its entirety on goodreads as well as the blog

3 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

1 comment:

  1. I love the way she weaves in actual history and creates a story around this artwork and these real people. Couldn't put it down.


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