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The Painted Girls: A Novel Hardcover – January 10, 2013

495 customer reviews

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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


Sketched in rich detail and teeming with suspense. The Painted Girls is hard to put down. (The Globe and Mail)

Buchanan weaves real and fictional characters and their stories to create a rich stew of drunkards, deceivers and ne’er-do-wells, seasoned by the occasional soft-hearted soul, who change the lives of the sisters. (Toronto Star)

The reader is completely absorbed in the struggle of Marie to rise above her circumstances. . . . [A] convincing, heartfelt story. (National Post)

History, coming of age and the art of Degas’s beloved dancers are woven together in this enchanting novel. Utterly captivating. (Vincent Lam, author of The Headmaster's Wager and Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures)

You will be swept away by The Painted Girls. Wonderfully imagined and masterfully rendered . . . [it] 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) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Edition edition (January 10, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594486247
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594486241
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.3 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (495 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #492,246 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Visit Cathy Marie's website (

Connect with Cathy Marie on Facebook ( or follow her on Twitter @cathymbuchanan

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

120 of 128 people found the following review helpful By Lydia on 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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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Holly Weiss VINE VOICE on 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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75 of 85 people found the following review helpful By Tara Chevrestt VINE VOICE on 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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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Kim Bullock on 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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