Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Review: The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

So today's read was another book that I read during 2013. "The Painted Girls" by Cathy Marie Buchanan is a fascinating look at the world of 19th century France and the ballet that inspired such great artists as Edgar Degas.

We don't get enough French historical fiction in my opinion, so I'm always glad to read something set in that country. "The Painted Girls" is set during the heady years of Belle Epoque Paris. While the novel can be somewhat depressing sometimes (as life must have been for those scraping by to make a living wage during this period), the novel ultimately celebrates triumph over adversity.

 The van Goethems, a poor family living hand to mouth in the slums of Paris are main protagonists. Antoinette, Marie, and Charlotte are three sisters, with the oldest, Antoinette, being a stand-in mother to her two younger sisters as their mother is too busy drinking the family's wages in Absinthe. Marie is the very sensitive, over thinking intellectual of the family who is pulled from her convent school and enrolled (along with her sister Charlotte) in the ballet school at the Paris Opera. Meanwhile Antoinette becomes embroiled in a torrid romance with the street wise Emile Abadie. They both end up working as extras in a theatrical production with Emile often passing along his wages to help Antoinette out. Nonetheless he is a sulky bad boy who conceals a dangerous side until the end of the novel. There were times that I wanted beat Antoinette senseless for believing his tripe, but we all have a gullible side, I suspect.

Despite the trials and travails of the van Goethems, the ending is quite satisfying. An interesting read if you enjoy the old Parisian landscape of cafes, music halls, and of course, the beautiful Paris Opera House.

This novel also got significant coverage in the Washington Post and on NPR, so well worth a read.

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