Tuesday, January 8, 2013

ARC Book Review: The Painted Girls

The Painted Girls: A NovelAuthor: Cathy Marie Buchanan
Publication Date: January 10, 2013
Publisher: Riverhead/Penguin USA

A gripping novel set in Belle Époque Paris and inspired by the real-life model for Degas’s Little Dancer Aged Fourteen and a notorious criminal trial of the era.

Paris. 1878. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventy francs a month, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work—and the love of a dangerous
young man—as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.

Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modelling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. Antoinette, meanwhile, descends lower and lower in 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 affair derails her completely.

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

  “‘It’s been two weeks, Madame van Goethem. You said you needed two weeks.’ No sooner had Papa taken his last breath upon this earth than, same as now, Monsieur LeBlanc stood in the doorway of our lodging room demanding the three months’ rent Papa had fallen behind since getting sick.” – ARC Copy pg. 3

“And old Pluque, he had the nerve to say, ‘Those sisters of yours, they’d be better off looking after themselves.’ But I did not blurt out about staying up half the night mending stockings and washing practice skirts and worrying myself to death. I did not say about pinching eggs on account of those two girls or fussing with their hair. No, I thought about Marie and Charlotte and clamped my lips tight.” – ARC Copy pg. 23 & 24

“‘Tonight, roasted chicken in your belly,’ Maman says, loosening her arms, stepping back from me. ‘And always, an angel in your heart.’” – ARC Copy pg. 36

“So as not to change my mind, I undress in a hurry, eyes glued to the exhausted girl, to the thinness of her limbs, to the softness of the pastel highlighting the ridge of her collarbone. I inch out from behind the screen, clutching at my nakedness.” – ARC Copy pg. 63

The Painted Girls follows the Van Goethem sisters after the recent passing of their father. Antoinette, Marie, and Charlotte are faced with life after their father and life with their sometimes insufferable mother. Antoinette, being the eldest, is left with the burden of providing financially for her mother and her sisters. Marie finds works quickly at the Paris Opera where for minimal wages she trains to enter the famous ballet. Antoinette enters into a relationship with a rather dangerous young man, who gave me goosebumps just reading about, and lands herself into a rather complicated situation that begins to change her in ways that are not fitting to her character.

This story is told in the alternating view points of Antoinette and Marie. What makes this so wonderful in regards to this novel is that you will hear the perspective of each sister regarding one specific event. It was amazing to find out how differently they each looked at an event that happened to them both. Their personalities and characteristics are as different as night and day and personally I loved Antoinette’s chapters better. I just felt such a strong pull to her and I think that it was more of an emotional pull. Antoinette’s hand in life was not a fair one by any means and I often felt sorry for her. Now granted, some situations she got herself into, but for the most part the burden and the responsibilities fell on her. She was emotionally and physically drained for the most part and her unwinding was so beautiful. She was a truly diverse and very eccentric character who does some very unexpected things.

Keep in mind while reading that this is not the Paris that you see on a postcard. This is the streets of Paris. This is the lower classes and the miscreants who meander down the long, dark alleyways in search of the nearest prostitute or beggar to steal from. The writing is very vivid and leaves no room for error, but I mean this is the most strategic and meticulous way possible. You won’t have to guess about what the Van Goethem sisters face because every single scene and each major happening is outlined in perfect detail for you, aligning perfectly with the historical evidence to support it. Some scenes were raw and brutal, but that’s Paris in 1873. This is a behind the scenes novel. It is beautiful and tragically real.

The mystery and intrigue that is embedded among these pages is something that I cannot even begin to put down on paper. This novel follows an actual murder and works in this story among a story of passion, love, and ballet. This is not your average combo - murder and ballet, but Buchanan nails it!

***A HUGE thank you to the publishers at Riverhead for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest and unbiased review***


  1. I'll definitely be reading this!! It sounds perfect for me! Great review and I'm glad you enjoyed it. (:

  2. I really loved this book. Like you said, it was enjoyable to see two different views on the same situation. I loved the grittiness of the lower class Paris. The one thing I would have liked was to see a little more about Charlotte. But other than that this was a great read!

  3. I have seen Painted Girls around a bit, but it really caught my interest when preparing my new release post. Your review has me sold 100 percent. I love books with ballet, I love the setting and I love a mystery. I have to read this one ASAP. Thanks for the awesome review.