The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Synopsis From Goodreads: 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.”
This was an interesting story with very well done, fully fleshed out characters , and with what I love about historical fiction, it made me go do research so I had Degas’ Ballerina portraits and the little dancer sculpture on my computer so I could look at them while reading. These characters are all very flawed but really just trying to survive the world the best they know how.
The story of these girls was fascinating and I loved the liberty the author took to combine Emil’s story with Antoinette & Marie’s I think it added such a great layer of depth to the story, where if it hadn’t been there, this book would have had less “meat” to it. There is a third sister in this story but to me she was just a secondary character to Antoinette & Marie, yet even though their mother is a smaller part of the story too I really felt her presence whenever she was in a scene, like when she was visiting Antoinette but really she wasn’t there to see her daughter it was just an excuse for a few extra hours off work. I thought this epitomized who this woman was.
This is also a great look at life especially for the poor in the late 1800’s and how once their father dies they have to find work somewhere, there were much worse “professions” than being a dancer or even a nude model for an artist and we all know what that is. These girls don’t have it easy and go through some pretty tough times and tough men. Also the insight into the paintings of Degas that I think everyone has seen even if they don’t realize who the artist is was fascinating, he seems to be one of the few artists that actually had a modicum of success while he was still alive. I have always found his work fascinating because of its day in a life aspects’ so that made his part in this book extra interesting to me.
I highly recommend this book it is good historical fiction with a little look into the world of Degas, a little mystery and the daily life of the downtrodden of the late 1800’s.