Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Review: The Paintedd Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
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 novel set back in the late 1800's of Paris. I think Buchanan did a great job of weaving characters and stories from real people that performed in the opera house. Although it was a very dark and gloomy story, I couldn't tear myself away from these two sisters as their lives spun out of control. The story alternates narration between both Marie and Antoinette, so we see events unfold through both sets of eyes.
Although Marie and Antoinette are the narrators of the novel, there is also a youngest sister Charlotte in the family. With only a mother looking to take care of her own addictions, the older sisters were left to be caretakers for the family. Every penny the mother made from her job at the laundry house was spent on alcohol, leaving the girls to earn money to pay for both rent and food.
With the opera house nearby and always looking for individuals to play simple walk-on roles or ballet dancers, this was the most dependable pay for young girls at the time. With Antoinette being the oldest, her prime time of dancing has passed, leaving a place for both of her sisters in her shadow. Marie excels in the ballet, making extra money for additional lessons allowing her to dance with a more elite crowd. But dancing with the elite provides its own set of troubles.
When Antoinette no longer can earn money from the opera house, she sets out on a dark path that will impact her family for years to come. Her actions create a chain of events for both herself and Marie that cannot be changed. Their relationship gains turbulence, as they were once gentle and protective towards one another, rather than the distrust and destruction they have created.
This was a wonderful story that I found very difficult to read at times. It definitely wasn't a novel to pick up and read over a weekend. Maybe it is just the business of my schedule, but this was just not a quick read for me. Maybe others had an easier time of it than I did so please let me know if that is the case! With themes of art, sisters, love, and forgiveness, you may enjoy this novel also. I don't hesitate in recommending this novel for either personal leisure or as a book club discussion.
My Rating: 4/5
Disclosure: This book was provided to me through the LibraryThing Early Rewards program in exchange for an honest review.