Based on the true story of Marie Van Goethem, Edgar Degas’ model and inspiration for his statuette La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans, The Painted Girls follows the lives of two sisters, Marie and Antoinette, struggling to survive and support their family in poverty stricken Paris of the 1800’s. Marie is an aspiring ballet dancer at l’Opera de Paris, while Antoinette, having given up her dream of dancing, works as a laundress at a local washhouse. While Marie flourishes, under the watchful eye of Edgar Degas, Antoinette becomes involved with hooligan Emile Abadie, making a slew of poor decisions that lead her to ruin.
Kudos go to Cathy Marie Buchanan for capturing so authentically the atmosphere of the period. Her wonderfully descriptive writing transports the reader to Paris of the 1800’s and brings to life the poverty and desperation of its population, the social and economic discrepancies between the classes, the seedy streets and unmentionable backroom dealings. Her passion for ballet and the arts in general is evident in her writing and definitely adds to the overall feel of the novel. Unfortunately, this passion just doesn’t follow through to her characters, which I found to be very unlikable, cold, selfish, self-centered and uncaring. Their lack of appeal was discouraging and made it very difficult for me to get to the end of this book.
I give The Painted Girls 2/5 stars.
The Painted Girls is also featured on the Goodreads book reading group 52 Weeks, 52 Books, created by author Catherine McKenzie. As the title suggests, every week Catherine chooses a book (which include bestsellers, unexpected finds and old favourites) and provides a venue for the group followers to review and discuss the selections. This group provides an excellent source for recommendations, especially for authors and books that just don’t get the attention they deserve.