Book Reviews

Book Review: The Painted Girls, by Cathy Marie Buchanan

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Summary from Kobo:
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 Opera, where for a scant seventeen francs a week, she will be trained to enter the famous Ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work 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 14. Meanwhile, Antoinette, derailed by her love for the dangerous Émile Abadie, must choose between honest labour and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde. 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.” In the end, each will come to realize that her salvation-her survival, even-lies with the other.

I’m not a big fan of historical fiction novels. Well to be honest, I’ve never actually read one (not that I can remember, anyways). At first I wasn’t too crazy about this book, and I was going to write an ok review on it. But I let it sit for a couple days, and this story really has grown on me. Here’s why:

1. Research. I really admire the hard work that is put into anything. When I read through the acknowledgments and what not at the end, I really did appreciate all the time that Cathy Marie Buchanan put into before even starting this novel. I admire all the information she collected, and also how she let her imagination grow and blossom into this story. I thought that was fantastic, and you really don’t see a few pages or more dedicated just to research done for a book in any novel, really. This is the first one I’ve seen!

2. Dance. I used to dance, so it was pretty easy for me to connect to Marie in this novel, who was trying her hardest to get to the point she reached in her life. This was the initial attraction for me to read this novel, so I’m glad that it all revolved around dance (and life outside of it!)

I really wasn’t prepared to find this book that amusing. It has a dark, depressing undertone throughout the entire novel. I do read as an escape from reality and I try to choose “happier” novels that will probably never happen in reality. But I am glad I chose this novel, because now I’ll definitely be looking out to read another historical novel genre-ish book.

Overall, I give this book a 6/10. I did find it monotonous much of the time, with no really big exciting thing or turn of events, but that’s probably to reflect the monotonous, boring day-to-day lives of Marie and her sisters. BUT the background to this story and all the research done is phenomenal, and I really do appreciate that.

If you want to try historical fiction novels, I think this would be a great place to start! And if you already love them, then this should be your next read! Happy reading!

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