Buchanan's book is so grim and dreary that one wishes it came with a prescription for an SSRI. While her descriptions of life among the very poor working class in nineteenth century Paris are true-to-life and suitably grim, the slight story which she weaves about a trio of sisters with aspirations to dance at the Paris Opera Ballet is, in the end, less than satisfying. However, it is the sub-plot about the criminal "friends" who rub shoulders with the two older sisters that really strains credulity - they constitute more coincidental and obviously manipulated scenes than one finds in a Woody Allen movie. For those of us with only minimal knowledge of classical ballet, her narrative is sadly lacking in elucidating the various positions, steps, turns, etc. which the dancers spend hours each day studying and practicing. Sure, one can Google this stuff, but an artful and thoughtful writer would have taken the trouble to write this information into the text. What was most annoying was the sappy ending which Buchanan tacks on in the last chapter - if ever an ending were contrived and tortured to appeal to the "women's book club" clique, this is it!
The chapters which deal with the great Edgar Degas and his fascination with the "petits rats" (the young apprentice dancers) and the ensuing masterpieces which he created are worth reading - the rest of the narrative is depressing melodrama of the most banal sort.
This book has a sameness to its style, a stultifying read that produces a sort of numbness in the reader, that leaves one wondering if Buchanan simply narrated the pages which were subsequently parsed by a "focus group" before submitting it to a publisher (one hopes against hope that editors are still being employed in the publishing world, but I doubt it). It just feels "manufactured," not written with a sense of purpose or an inkling of how narrative arcs are supposed to work. Recommended if you are a dance enthusiast who doesn't mind wading through pages and pages of repetitive stories about the family's miserable existence, or simply can't read enough about the Impressionists.