Paris. 1878. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventy francs a month, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work—and the love of a dangerous
young man—as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.
Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modelling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her
image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer
Aged Fourteen. Antoinette, meanwhile, descends
lower and lower in society, and must make the choice between a life of honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde—that is, unless her love affair derails her completely.
Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural,
and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of “civilized society.”
I knew when I received my copy of The Painted Girls I was in for a treat. I’ve been a great fan of Cathy Marie Buchanan since I read The Day the Falls Stood Still several years ago and have been anxiously awaiting her next book.
I was not disappointed – in fact, I was completely overwhelmed with how wonderful the book is. Every word was a joy to read. I was hardly able to put it down to feed my family, but thankfully, they are an understanding bunch when it comes to my reading habits. Having received an early copy, it’s been killing me that I couldn’t share my review until now.
While I’ve seen pictures of Little Dancer Aged Fourteen before, I didn’t know the background of the girl behind the sculpture – or that of her older sister. All in all, I found it quite heartbreaking and yet triumphant at the same time. While the story is fictionalized, the van Goethem sisters, Antoinette and Marie were indeed real and are brought beautifully to life by Cathy Marie Buchanan. Their stories are told in alternating chapters from alternating perspectives and newspaper clippings at the beginnings of chapters really tied the story together.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to gush enough about this book – or convey into words how truly lovely it is. It’s one of those books that I wish I didn’t read yet so I could experience it all over again for the first time.