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The Painted Girls: A Novel | [Cathy Marie Buchanan]

The Painted Girls: A Novel

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, finds herself launched into the orbit of Émile Zola....
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Publisher's Summary

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

What the Critics Say

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)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.8 (272 )
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4.0 (233 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Bianca 07-24-14
    Bianca 07-24-14 Member Since 2012
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    "Amazing insight into the Paris 1800's ballet."
    If you could sum up The Painted Girls in three words, what would they be?

    It is a heart wrenching story of survival and sisterly love while also trying to obtain their dreams.


    What did you like best about this story?

    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.


    What about the narrators’s performance did you like?

    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.


    If you could rename The Painted Girls, what would you call it?

    maybe The Degas Dancers?


    Any additional comments?

    This is one of those books that make a reader want to learn more about the subject.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Janna Wong Healy Los Angeles, CA 07-09-14
    Janna Wong Healy Los Angeles, CA 07-09-14 Member Since 2013

    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!

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    "DREARY AND DEPRESSING"

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susan 09-14-13
    Susan 09-14-13
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    "Took a while to get hooked, but landed a whopper."

    Did not grab my attention initially but once it did I loved it. Great character development in a historical setting with literary liberties

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nita 08-25-13
    Nita 08-25-13
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    "young survivors in old Paris and ballet"

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nicola Ferguson North Vancouver, B.C. Canada 02-23-13
    Nicola Ferguson North Vancouver, B.C. Canada 02-23-13 Member Since 2007

    "This teacher says listening to the book is just as good as reading it!"

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    "Terrifically Researched - A Great Read"
    What did you love best about The Painted Girls?

    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.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Painted Girls?

    There were numerous memorable moments, but Marie's audition for the cadre was a lovely moment.


    What about the narrators’s performance did you like?

    It was fine, but (unlike The Poisonwood Bible) the voices were not individual enough to separate the characters easily.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Beth Anne Philadelphia, PA, United States 02-02-13
    Beth Anne Philadelphia, PA, United States 02-02-13 Member Since 2012

    i like to read. i like to listen.

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    "Stellar Listen, even with semi-flawed read"

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    scott Paia, HI, United States 07-07-13
    scott Paia, HI, United States 07-07-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Couldn't get into it..."
    Would you try another book from Cathy Marie Buchanan and/or the narrators?

    I just couldn't seem to get into this story. The narration seemed hard to follow as well.


    0 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michal Scotsdale, AZ, United States 05-17-13
    Michal Scotsdale, AZ, United States 05-17-13 Member Since 2009

    I live in Scottsdale, Arizona. I have 5 grown children, play ukuele exercise, and read.

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    "Couldn't finish this book"
    This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    Honestly, I tried. I even went away, read another one, and came back. Finally just deleted it. the book is beyond boring, and the reader is even worse.


    What do you think your next listen will be?

    The Storyteller


    What didn’t you like about the narrators’s performance?

    Mainly, she was monotone. No variance to her voice. I'd drive along, and realize that I flat couldn't remember what she just read.


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Painted Girls?

    Editing, and definitely a new reader.


    Any additional comments?

    I do not recommend.

    0 of 4 people found this review helpful
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