Monday 19 May 2014

Book Review The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

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.”

My Musings
Two sisters who struggle to survive in the underbelly of society in The Belle Epoque of Paris. Both have dreams that lead them to make wrong decisions and you are drawn into this dark and mysterious world of the not so glamorous life in the theatre. You can see and smell  their Paris in which young girls used and abused by rich men. This is fascinating tale based on fact that Buchanan has spun into a vibrant dark world. These few threads of truth draw the reader in and really make us care about the girls and their survival. There is something magical about The Little Ballerina by Degas and the book really imagines and brings life to the art of Degas. Particularly fascinating to me was the relationship between Degas and Marie, the younger sister who models for him for a couple of yearas. It is an impersonal and cold relationship of a voyeur studying his model and creating something beautiful and sensuous. This love and passion are strictly kept for his drawings, paintings and finally the creation of his statue. There is no real friendship from him or caring or interest. The love in the book is imbued into the relationship between the sisters and what they will sacrifice for each other. A beautiful dark novel for those interested in ballet, theatre, art and historical novels.

For more books on ballet or art see my two book lists below
A List of Books for Ballet Lovers
A List of Books For Art Lovers

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