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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 (214 )
5 star
 (60)
4 star
 (77)
3 star
 (51)
2 star
 (16)
1 star
 (10)
Overall
3.7 (178 )
5 star
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4 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Story
4.0 (182 )
5 star
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4 star
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3 star
 (24)
2 star
 (10)
1 star
 (8)
Performance
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  •  
    Tango Texas 01-18-13
    Tango Texas 01-18-13 Member Since 2012

    Two great passions - dogs and books! Sci-fi/fantasy novels are my go-to favorites, but I love good writing across all genres.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great concept does not realize its full potential"

    Buchanan has taken some real historical people - some famous, some infamous, some unknown - woven some facts and some fictional plot twists together to create a unified storyline between some Degas' artwork, some historical figures, and the popular 19th century (and some earlier times) pseudo-scientific theory of physiognomy.. It is a really interesting concept for a novel but it falls short in implementation. The Painted Girls is less historical fiction than a period piece (late 19th century Paris, lower socio economic classes), but it's a period piece that provides only glimpses and not a real picture. More like watching the story unfold through a peephole than through a large window. The plot moves at a good pace (I feared the boredom of The Girl with a Pearl Earring, but that was not the case with The Painted Girls) and I definitely enjoyed the sections of the story that wove the artwork of Degas into the story. But, ultimately, I wasn't drawn into the time period and maybe partly as a result of that, I didn't connect with any of the characters. Frustrating people, often making bad decisions, and I just didn't care what happened to them. Overall, I was entertained and learned a bit from the novel, but it was disappointing that a rather creative concept just didn't quite deliver a KO punch.

    The performances by the narrators were satisfactory although there is an obvious challenge in a audiobook when the novel's dialog is in English but spoken by characters who actually would clearly speak French. When you read, your brain kind of finds a place where your imagination makes the bridge for that. But listening to American accents throw around French names and places using French pronunciations right in the middle of a sentence is constantly pulling you out of the setting - it is just kind of distracting. This book might be one that just is better read than heard.

    I didn't mind spending a credit on the book, but my recommendation for it would be tepid at best.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Melinda UT 02-03-13
    Melinda UT 02-03-13 Member Since 2009

    So hooked by audio that I have to read books aloud. *If my reviews help, please let me know.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Only a Pastel Version of the *Beautiful Era*"

    A beautiful carving is made at the expense of all that is thrown away...a thought that describes this story of the young *ballet rat* that poses for Edgar Degas's sculpture, (Little Dancer of Fourteen) her family, and the Belle Epoque period of France. Behind the beauty of the opera, ballet, and the arts, is the contrast of the discarded and impoverished, their hard and sad lives of struggling to make a living.

    The Belle Epoque.."the beautiful era"...Van Gogh, Gaugin, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, the birth of Impressionism, the Ballet Russes, Baudelaire, Debussy, Ravel...a primordial soup of creativity in an amazing time. But Painted Girls views only the underbelly of Paris, through the eyes of 3 sisters struggling to pay rent and buy bread--the artists to them are men or patrons who will pay money for *services.* With such a vibrant and creative climate, the author never uses the full palette available, and paints only a watery view of Paris at its artistic height. It ends up being a story that could be told in almost any era.

    I thought the first half of the book slow and almost juvenile, told through the younger girl's point of view; then the older sister starts to narrate, and the book quickly goes blue. Definitely not a YA novel! The debauchery the girls have to put up with just to make a living is sad to listen to, and even worse, their acceptance of that fact of life. The focus shifts to the older sister's infatuation with a young man--with all the charm of Bill Sikes--accused of murder. Degas makes just a brief appearance (his sculpture of the girl obviously gained its appreciation after his death), and while a few ballets of the times are mentioned, the listener hears more about the barre work than the lavish productions or famous dancers.

    To the patient listener, there is a story, and even some historical bits, but it was much less than what I had anticipated (the 3* overall should probably be 2*)--even with the author's research, and so very slow. The narrator does a good job with the pronunciation of French names, as well as with the different female characters; her attempt at the male voices could have been spared by using Danny Campbell for all of the male parts instead of just the interludes...miniscule issue.

    14 of 17 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carole Poway, CA, United States 01-21-13
    Carole Poway, CA, United States 01-21-13 Member Since 2008
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    "Abundance of Misery"

    This title appealed to me because of the association with Ballet. I have always wanted to learn more about this complex sport/art/science.
    This audio started with the story of three sisters in 19th Century France. The story continued along predictable lines by describing the sisters' starvation, constant work at the barre and miserable boarding house living, where they were all crammed into one room with their mother. I continued to listen, waiting for the conflict, the small success or the intriguing character to enter. Short of a couple of appointments with the great artiste, Degas, nothing happened but more suffering. I tired of the constant whining, worrying and grimy encounters with men. There was no reward or romance - just more wailing about circumstances. Also, predictably one sister, working as a laundress, burned a shirt and was "docked one week's wages." Please! How obvious can you be?
    I commend anyone who endeavors to write a full-length novel. The technical part - the writing - was well done in this book. Nice description and tone. However, my resources were spent and I expected a fair exchange.

    I need something to grab me after the first three hours. I listed to most of the first part, then I quit.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carol Oswego, NY, United States 01-24-13
    Carol Oswego, NY, United States 01-24-13 Member Since 2013
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    "The Painted Girls"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    I would not recommend this book. It failed to hold my interest and I couldn't wait for the
    end to come.


    If this book were a movie would you go see it?

    No


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    LeighLeighE Columbus, OH USA 04-18-13
    LeighLeighE Columbus, OH USA 04-18-13 Member Since 2012

    .

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    "Depressing and alluring all at once"

    There are still things from this book that I wonder about. That may be why I enjoyed it!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Donnise columbia, tn, United States 04-11-13
    Donnise columbia, tn, United States 04-11-13

    I have a 3 hour commute to work every day so I listen to audiobooks to help with my drive. It's added some happiness to my day (if it's a good book)!

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    "Vivid Portrayal of Ballet Girl"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes, I love Degas paintings. I love ballet. I love historical fiction. Great combo!


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

    The ending was by far the best. I won't give it away.


    Have you listened to any of the narrators’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No, this was my first but she is amazing.


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

    Something about sisters.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jody Gambrills, MD, United States 03-25-13
    Jody Gambrills, MD, United States 03-25-13 Member Since 2010
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    "Wonderful Historic Perspective"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes, this book provided so much insight into the times and the lives of the young girls in Paris as well as their plight.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The changing from perspective of story. From sister to sister.


    Have you listened to any of the narrators’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No, she was truly wonderful.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Yes


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cheryl McLean, VA, United States 03-10-13
    Cheryl McLean, VA, United States 03-10-13 Member Since 2006
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    "Pulls you in"

    Told from the viewpoints of sisters in an impoverished family with ties to the ballet, the story is surprisingly charming and engrossing -- I say surprisingly because I'm not interested in ballet and don't usually read period fiction. The narrator has a pleasant voice with a likable personality. I would call this elevated light entertainment - you won't learn anything but you won't feel like you've wasted your time on utter fluff, either.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    B.J. Minneapolis, MN, United States 04-16-14
    B.J. Minneapolis, MN, United States 04-16-14 Member Since 2007

    I hear voices. But maybe that's because there's always an Audible book in my ear.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Really mediocre historical fiction"

    When historical fiction is done well, it really transports you to a time in a way that can't be duplicated. I remember reading "The Alienist" for the first time and I could smell the streets of New York in the late 1800s. With many of the rave reviews on this book, I expected the same feel for Paris. It never happened.

    The premise of this story is good ... though certainly not original. "Girl with a Pearl Earring" has the same art-comes-to-life basis. While I appreciated a look at the world of ballet in Paris during the time, it wasn't any more revealing than what one would have guessed.

    This was a book club selection so I had a chance to hear what others thought about it. My feelings about the book put me in the minority - much like the reviews here and elsewhere. There were many others who thought it was terrific and appreciated the story of the sisters. Clearly we have a different view of historical fiction and how it should be written. This was simply not the book for me nor would I recommend it to others.

    2 of 3 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!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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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
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