The Painted Girls by Cathy Buchanan is a wonderfully imagined piece of historical fiction by an extremely talented author. I was first captivated by Cathy’s writing when I read her first novel The Day the Falls Stood Still (my review) and loved it and she’s done it again. I can’t imagine the research and time that went into weaving the historical details with the beautifully told story of the sisters in The Painted Girls but it was well worth it because this is an amazing novel that brings to life 19th century Paris and those of the dancers and artists who lived in it.
Antoinette, Marie, and Charlotte don’t live the life of the privileged. In fact it’s a struggle just to survive for them. Their father passed away and their mother spends more time with her bottle of absinthe than with them. Antoinette has been in the ballet and both Marie and Charlotte apply also as it is the one way for them to get ahead in their world and also make a living. The story shifts between Antoinette and Marie and normally I would like one more than the other but the story shifted so seamlessly between the two that I was completely immersed in both of their worlds. These two sisters love each other fiercely and yet there is a rivalry there particularly in the ballet when Marie begins to be singled out by the painter Edgar Degas. She begins to model for him and make extra money but soon she is pressed into making decisions that she’s much too young to be making. As for Antoinette she falls for a boy and ends up taking a direction in her life that doesn’t lead her anywhere but downhill. Both girls will face hardships and heart wrenching decisions and both will suffer in different ways. Will their passion for what they believe and their strong sisterly bond be enough to lead them to the life they desire.
The characters in this book are so vividly brought to life; even the smallest one. The world of art and the ballet is so vividly described that I felt sure I was standing over the shoulder of the painter or sitting in the front seats of the ballet. From the beginning pages Antoinette and Marie, based on real sisters, captured my heart and I felt every sorrow and every triumph that they did. The book is also based on real murders that occurred and those pieces are intertwined throughout the book. You’d think they didn’t belong but they relate back to the story in quite a few ways. I was also really interested in the pieces on the artists as I have an interest in that time period although I haven’t looked into it as much as I should. After reading this book I did look up Edgar Degas’ work called ‘Little Dancer Aged Fourteen’ because it really piqued my curiosity and of course now I want to learn even more. I think it’s great when a book incites that kind of a reaction from its readers to learn more.
The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan is a beautifully written book. Every single word and phrase takes you away to another place and time and opens up the world of artists and dancers in such a way that will evoke emotions within you and keep you enthralled within its pages and the lives it portrays. An excellent novel by a brilliant writer – well worth reading and highly recommended for the historical fiction fan and others! Pick up your own copy at Amazon or Amazon Canada.
Source: Review copy provided by the Publisher. No compensation was received and all opinions are my own.