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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

Critic Reviews

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)

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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.

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  • Beth Anne
  • Philadelphia, PA, United States
  • 02-02-13

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.

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  • scott
  • Paia, HI, United States
  • 07-07-13

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.

1 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Michal
  • Scotsdale, AZ, United States
  • 05-17-13

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