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The Painted Girls: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Cathy Marie Buchanan
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (431 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $7.99
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Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

A heartrending, gripping novel about two sisters in Belle Époque Paris.



1878 Paris. 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 seventeen francs a week, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.



Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. There she meets a wealthy male patron of the ballet, but might the assistance he offers come with strings attached? Meanwhile Antoinette, derailed by her love for the dangerous Émile Abadie, 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 survival, lies with the other.


Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Buchanan’s exquisite historical novel details the lives of would-be ballerinas Antoinette, Marie, and Charlotte van Goethem. Responsible for fending for themselves after the death of their father and the absinthe-soaked decline of their mother, the van Goethem sisters struggle to eke out an existence while subsidizing their ambitions at the harshly competitive school of the Paris Opéra. When Marie is selected by Edgar Degas to pose for his future masterpiece, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen,and Antoinette snags a bit part in the stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s L’Assommoir, the extra income enables them to avoid, for a while, the tragic pitfalls of life on the lower slopes of Montmartre. To make things even more interesting, Buchannan links the sisters’ stories with that of convicted criminals Emile Abadie and Michel Knobloch, the subjects of Degas’ Criminal Physiognomies. By intertwining the narrative threads of these drawn-from-history characters, she paints a realistically robust portrait of working-class life in late nineteenth-century Paris. Guaranteed to appeal to fans of Tracy Chevalier, Susan Vreeland, and Melanie Benjamin. --Margaret Flanagan

Review

"Deeply moving and inventive . . . Buchanan's evocative portrait of 19th-century Paris brings to life its sights, sounds, and smells, along with the ballet hall where dancers hunger for a place in the corps. . . . But nothing is more real or gripping than the emotions of Marie and her older sister Antoinette. . . . Their tale is ultimately a tribute to the beauty of sisterly love."— People

“The ethereal ballerina from Degas’s famed sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen comes to life in this richly imagined novel. Amid the glamour of tutus and art emerges a surprisingly gritty story of survival in the gutters of Belle Epoque Paris.”—Entertainment Weekly

“In The Painted Girls, a historically based work of fiction rich with naturalistic details of late-19th-century Paris, Cathy Marie Buchanan paints the girls who spring from the page as vibrantly as a dancer’s leap across a stage. . . . A compelling story of yearning for love in the face of ugliness and brutality. Wheeling out of control, the two older girls descend from their pretty pirouettes to misery, their mutual affection torn apart for a time. Nevertheless, Buchanan makes us feel they are good at heart. The Painted Girls is a captivating story of fate, tarnished ambition and the ultimate triumph of sister-love.”—Susan Vreeland, The Washington Post

"In this compelling tale, we meet a fictionalized Marie Van Goethem (one of the young dancers who posed for Degas) and her sister, whose journeys out of the Paris slums evoke the light and the dark of the Belle Epoque."—Good Housekeeping

"Two impoverished sisters in Belle Epoque Paris enter the world of the ballet (Degas) and theater (Zola) but also face temptations that can lure young women in the demimonde."—USA Today

“In “The Painted Girls,” a carefully researched, deeply imagined historical novel…the Belle Époque comes to vibrant, often aching life.”—Chicago Tribune

"[Buchanan] treats her girls with far greater care than do their contemporaries, seeing worth in them despite their misjudgments and calamities.”—Christian Science Monitor

“Buchanan does more than just write about what she knows; that same verisimilitude wends through the whole book: the grinding poverty in which the sisters live, the interaction between them, the daily life of a Parisian all come to life in her capable hands.”—Huffington Post

"A dark valentine to Belle Epoque Paris."—Vogue

"Buchanan brings the unglamorous reality of the late 19th-century Parisian demimonde into stark relief while imagining the life of Marie Van Goethem, the actual model for the iconic Degas statue Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. . . . Buchanan does a masterful job of interweaving historical figures into her plot, but it is the moving yet unsentimental portrait of family love, of two sisters struggling to survive with dignity, that makes this a must-read."—Kirkus (starred)

"Engrossing depiction of Belle Epoque Paris."—Publishers Weekly

"The Painted Girls is historical fiction at its finest, awash in period details of the Paris of Degas and Zola while remaining, at its heart, the poignant story of two sisters struggling to stay together even as they find themselves pulled toward different, and often misunderstood, dreams. Cathy Marie Buchanan also explores the uneasy relationship between artist and muse with both compassion and soul-searing honesty.”—Melanie Benjamin, author of Alice I Have Been and The Aviator's Wife

"Part mystery, part love story, The Painted Girls breathes heart and soul into a fascinating era of the City of Lights. One can't help but be drawn in by this compelling and lyrical tale of sister love and rivalry."—Heidi W. Durrow, author of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

“Beautiful and haunting. From the first page, I was swept up and enchanted.”—Amy Greene, author of Bloodroot

“Will hold you enthralled as it spools out the vivid story of young sisters in late 19th century Paris struggling to transcend their lives of poverty through the magic of dance. I guarantee, you will never look at Edgar Degas’s immortal sculpture of the Little Dancer in quite the same way again.”—Kate Alcott, author of The Dressmaker

“If you’ve ever looked at a famed piece of art and wondered what the artist was thinking or who the subjects really were, you will be swept away by The Painted Girls. Wonderfully imagined and masterfully rendered, this story of 19th century Paris and life behind the scenes of its legendary Opera House will change the way you see the world of ballet, art and the lives it portrays.”—Shilpi Somaya Gowda, New York Times and internationally bestselling author of Secret Daughter

"Sisters, dance, art, ambition, and intrigue in late 1800s Paris. The Painted Girls offers the best of historical fiction: compelling characters brought backstage at l’Opera and front and center in Degas’ studio. This one has 'book club favorite' written all over it."—Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Wednesday Sisters

Product Details

  • File Size: 638 KB
  • Print Length: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead; Reprint edition (January 10, 2013)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B008U4BQWO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,449 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
111 of 118 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of The Painted Girls January 10, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
When I was a little girl I craved books about ballet - scouring the shelves of the library, looking through bookstores, garage sales, and flea markets trying to find anything that would have pictures of pointe shoes, references to famous ballerina's or composers of ballets. I still remember reading a book I found at a garage sale so many times that it literally fell apart in my hands one day (but for some reason I cannot recall the title of it, I just know it was so so good to my nine-year-old self).

I wasn't a big fan of Cathy Marie Buchanan's previous novel, so I approached The Painted Girls with some trepidation. I mean, her writing was sound - but the subject matter in her previous book left me a little, well, bored. That did not happen with The Painted Girls.

Told from two viewpoints, sisters Antoinette and Marie, this is the story of a family who has lost its father, the mother is a drunkard, the oldest sister a foolish girl and the younger one struggling to find her footing. There is a third sister, Charlotte, but she does not receive much of a voice in this story.

Also making an appearance in this book is the painter, Degas, and Buchanan references quite a few of his famous pieces of art to give the story setting and context.

I found The Painted Girls to be a heart-breaking, beautiful story and I walked away feeling like I'd read something that wasn't only interesting, but educational and enriching as well. Buchanan has redeemed herself in my eyes with this subject matter and I'm anxiously awaiting her next project.
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40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting and Heart Wrenching January 10, 2013
Format:Hardcover
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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70 of 79 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Vivid, Realistic, Sad January 12, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
Def giving this points for uniqueness. I learned so much about ballet, opera, Degas, his art. There's a bit of a mystery at the heart of this, but to me, I honestly felt this was a story of women and their never-ending struggle to be loved, respected, and successful. It's also a tale of children not being allowed to be children. It's about a very different time.

Three sisters, each one striving for something. Antoinette wants to be adored. Marie wants to take care of her family. Charlotte wants to be successful. And yet, they all become whores. One is a whore to love. One is a whore because in the end, despite all she does, she's left with nothing else. One is a whore in order to succeed, and in the end it's utterly sad.

Though very true to the era it's penned about, I had a hard time with Antoinette's story. She was just terribly dumb in my eyes. The truth was in front of her face so much...but it's amazing what a girl will do to have a man's approval. This book really makes you think of that.

Marie, the trial, the guilt she felt for the decision she made...very gripping.

Vivid. Realistic, sad, and wrenching. This is the kind of book you pick up when you wish to time travel. But it is full of heartache. In the middle, my mind began straying and at times the book lost my interest as it got repetitive, but it hooked me again towards the end.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mesmerizing! January 13, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The grace on the Opera stage contrasts sharply with the lives of the dancers backstage, many of whom, like Marie and Antoinette, are from the Paris gutters. The Painted Girls unflinchingly contains all the grit and blood of the Paris slums, though it is far more hopeful a tale than novels like Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. The alternating first person point of view plunks the reader right into Marie's tattered shoes or Antoinette's sweat-soaked washhouse clothes. That the narrative is in present tense adds an immediacy to the tale that keeps pages turning. As a mother, my heart alternately ached and swelled for those girls, especially because I have my own "little dancers" - ages eleven and seven. Neither of them will be reading The Painted Girls any time soon, but when they are grown, or at least nearly grown, I will hand them a new copy. My own will probably be as tattered as Marie's shoes by then.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Well written and very interesting I would recommend it .
Published 12 days ago by Lou
5.0 out of 5 stars I totally enjoyed it and have recommended it to my friends
It was a fabulous read. I totally enjoyed it and have recommended it to my friends.
Published 15 days ago by Patricia Clark
5.0 out of 5 stars great book. Read it for my book club
great book. Read it for my book club, and everyone enjoyed it. I enjoyed doing more research on Degas and his work.
Published 20 days ago by russ anderhalt
5.0 out of 5 stars Three sisters
Excellent writing. These three sisters share a bond of survival. I loved how the chapters alternated between Maria and Antoinette, giving the reader the perspective from each... Read more
Published 21 days ago by Joyce McFarland
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
loved it....
Published 26 days ago by fernando pelaez
2.0 out of 5 stars disappointing
Never sure where it was going. A flat read but good detailing of the times and poverty and survival .
Published 29 days ago by DLC
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent story
Excellent glimpse into the lives of dancers in Degas' era a and the Paris of that time. Entertaining, empathic, and factual.
Published 1 month ago by Cat People
5.0 out of 5 stars Portraits the struggle of the poor in the 1900s
Interesting til the end. Portraits the struggle of the poor in the 1900s. Love that they mention the ballet technique and positions.
Published 1 month ago by Sofia Villarreal
5.0 out of 5 stars sisters raising each other
In the late 1800s in Paris, an impoverished teenage girl could earn a small wage in a variety of occupations: as a ballet dancer, as an artist’s model, as a washerwoman, and, of... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Patti
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
very interesting
Published 1 month ago by Marie vandeventer
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More About the Author

CATHY MARIE BUCHANAN's The Painted Girls is a #1 National Bestseller in Canada, a New York Times bestseller, and has garnered rave reviews and been showered with special attention--everything from selection as a People Magazine pick to inclusion in Entertainment Weekly's Must List to being named a best book of 2013 by NPR, Good Housekeeping and Goodreads. Her debut novel, The Day the Falls Stood Still, is a New York Times bestseller and a Barnes & Noble Recommends selection. She holds a BSc (Honours Biochemistry) and an MBA from Western University. Born and raised in Niagara Falls, Ontario, she now resides in Toronto with her husband and three sons.

She'd be happy to skype your book club. For details see http://www.cathymariebuchanan.com/book-clubs

Visit Cathy Marie's website (www.cathymariebuchanan.com)

Connect with Cathy Marie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/cathymariebuchanan) or follow her on Twitter @cathymbuchanan

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