Paris, 1878: Following the death of their father from overwork, the three van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without their father’s wages, and with what little their mother earns as a laundress disappearing down the absinthe bottle, eviction from their single boarding room seems imminent. With few options for work available for a girl, bookish 14-year-old Marie and her younger sister Charlotte are dispatched to the Paris Opera, where for a scant seven francs a week, the girls will be trained to enter its famous ballet. Their older sister, stubborn and insolent 17-year-old Antoinette, dismissed from the ballet, finds herself launched into the orbit of Émile Zola and the influence of his notorious naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir - and into the arms of a young man who may turn out to be a murderer.
Marie throws herself into dance, hoping her natural gift and hard work will enable her to escape her circumstances, but the competition to become one of the famous étoiles at whose feet flowers are thrown nightly is fierce, and Marie is forced to turn elsewhere to make money. Cripplingly self-conscious about her low-class appearance, she nonetheless finds herself modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized in his controversial sculpture Little Dancer, Aged 14. Antoinette, meanwhile, descends lower and lower in society and must make the choice between honest labor as a laundress and the more profitable avenues available to a young woman in the Paris demimonde - that is unless her love for the dangerous Émile Abadie derails her completely.
Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, The Painted Girls is ultimately a tale of two remarkable girls rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of "civilized society". In the end, each will come to realize that her individual salvation, if not survival, lies with the other.
©2013 Cathy Marie Buchanan (P)2013 Blackstone Audio, Inc
“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)
“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)
“Will hold you enthralled as it spools out the vivid story of young sisters in late nineteenth 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)
I loved the way this was narrated by three women to stand for the three sisters. They each gave a dynamic performance. The story was only historically based but still informative about the history of the Paris Opera Ballet and the times.
I listened to this book because it was the selection for my book club. I found the story to be very slow to establish. Nearly half the book was devoted to character development before anything really happened. The narrator had a very slow cadence to her narration. I used the audible app to speed up the narration helping me persevere in finishing this book. I found the narrator used an American-type accent that I found confusing when narrating a story about Parisian French girls written by a Canadian author.
I thought this was a slow starter. To the point were I had to push myself to listen to one more chapter or I would move on to a new story. I am quite glad I stayed with it. I can't even say what I liked about this story .... I just liked it more and more as the story went on. Maybe it's that I have three daughters and can appreciate the different personalities that create a synergy that is difficult to explain but is clearly felt .
What a horrible time in history for women. Painful to read this historical fiction about the lives of the dancers and opera performers during the time Degas was painting them. This author easily transported me into the lives of three sisters struggling to succeed during the late1800's.
It is a heart wrenching story of survival and sisterly love while also trying to obtain their dreams.
The research that went into the story. Also the way the author used Degas' art and the study of the criminal face to help the listener understand peoples perception. Marie and Antoinette's characters were well developed. The imagery was wonderful. Not being a dancer, I appreciated the detail that went into the descriptions of the steps and emotions the girls experienced while dancing.
well modulated voices and the use of French accents to make it feel more authentic. The man reading Figaro was a great touch to help listeners shift gears.
maybe The Degas Dancers?
This is one of those books that make a reader want to learn more about the subject.
I've spent my entire life around the written word - writing it, editing it, teaching it. So, it's no wonder I also love to read it!
There are some things about this novel about poor sisters living in the slums of Paris in the late 1800s that I really liked. For example, the author paints a vivid picture of the place and time so we can almost feel what Marie and Antoinette are going through. When Marie works so hard to pass her ballet exam to move up to the cadre, the reader can feel the poor girl's fatigue. Basically, I liked the story (up to a point) and got caught up in their dramatic situations -- how they both had to work so hard for so little; how they had to deal with their father's death and their mother's alcoholism; how Antoinette is so in love with the loser Emile that you want to just shake her; and how Marie succumbs to her patron, Mr. Lefevre, which nearly ruins her life and almost destroys her future.
The author's senses of verisimilitude of the time and place feels spot-on.
But, there is no joy in this book and, most importantly, very little hope for these characters. It is dreary, depressing and dramatic. It is also somewhat repetitious, as you see similar scenes play out at different times again and again. If the book were shorter, the dreariness wouldn't feel quite so overwhelming. But, it is long and all-encompassing and soon becomes oppressive.
The book is nicely written; the author's use of language is superb. And, she creates an environment that is realistic and characters that you feel for. But, eventually, it was too oppressive an experience. I wanted to like this more than I did...but I just didn't.
The narration was superb, though. I really loved the voices of the two sisters; they were distinct and yet had similar tones.
Did not grab my attention initially but once it did I loved it. Great character development in a historical setting with literary liberties
A creative backstory behind Degas' dancers, what their lives might have been, struggling to survive in old Paris. The characters were fascinating, the narration brought them alive, and the emotional swings of the story kept me anxious to get back for more.
The ultimate multi-tasking is to read a book while driving
I really enjoyed this fact-based back story to Degas' famous sculpture "The little dancer of fourteen years". The two main characters: Antoinette and Marie, were very appealing and engaging. The subject matter, of the difficult lives of the 'petit rats' who barely lived above the poverty line and hoped for deliverance from the Paris Opera was also fascinating and enlightening. The fact that these ballet girls' lives were intertwined with a number of murders that scandalised 1880's Paris all made for a gripping tale.
There were numerous memorable moments, but Marie's audition for the cadre was a lovely moment.
It was fine, but (unlike The Poisonwood Bible) the voices were not individual enough to separate the characters easily.
i like to read. i like to listen.
what a well imagined and written story. you don't have to be a fan of Degas to enjoy the story "behind" his ballet paintings...thought, it's amazing how author wound a tale of sisterhood and misery and mistrust and love all based on images that Degas produced.
i was truly enthralled by each of the sister's stories (as they were told in alternate chapters), and of course the culminating final moments of their childhood stories were chilling and touching and exciting.
i'm assuming that the reader was supposed to have moments of falling deeply in love with the sisters, then feeling anger towards them, then sympathy, pity...running through the gamut of emotions for (and with) each of them. of course i had a "favorite" sister. whom i was rooting for and empathizing with and with whom i wanted to choose the right path for success.
i will confess, i did not like the way that Antoinette's narrator read her part. it took me a few chapters to separate myself from her reading of it...and just hear the words, not her reading. if it was solely narrated by her, I'm not sure i'd have gotten through it...and that would have been a real shame, as this is one of the best stories i've listened to in a while. Marie's narrator, however, was spot on.
i really truly loved this story. in itself it felt like a painted picture...which makes the writing a success.
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