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What makes a great historical novel
on October 20, 2014
What makes a great historical novel? In my view, it is taking a fragment of history, perhaps a newspaper article, or a snippet of an event, or in this case, a ballet dancer who otherwise would have been forgotten,and creating an unforgettable tale. Buchanan has done just that in creating the 19th C world of Paris. For a paltry few coins the fourteen year old Marie Goethem becomes the muse of Monsieur Degas and in so doing is immortalized. Buchanan has given life to Marie Goethem and her sisters, three impoverished ballet hopefuls who struggle to eat and survive in a world where everything is stacked against them. Buchanan weaves a story that, although imagined, has the possibility of being true. She clothes her tale in factual events and allows us to experience the underbelly of the Belle époque period. In doing so, she has given us an eagle's eye view of 19th C. Paris, with all its social inequalities. A period that shone like a jewel with its abundance of culture and enlightenment, yet beneath the surface teemed with poverty and tyranny. It was a world where ideas of prejudice and superiority infiltrated even the greatest of minds, and Buchanan manages to make it all real.
I would have given this book five stars, but I found some of the dialect annoying. The author intentionally made a choice to distinguish one sister from the other by their dialect, one having studied with nuns and the other being illiterate. However, I found it oft times distracting.
Otherwise, a not to be missed historical novel.