Review: The Painted Girls

Title: The Painted Girls Image

Author: Cathy Marie Buchanan

Rating: ★★

Provided Synopsis: 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.

Review: To be quite honest, I have been sitting on my review of The Painted Girls for a few hours as I attempt to collect my thoughts so I can put into words why this book was such a disappointment in my eyes. Set in the late 1800s in Paris, the details of the life, the smells, the streets, the art, and the Opera are stunning; they are the kind of words that can transport a reader to another place in time, so I give Buchanan plenty of praise for that. Then, there are two sisters named Marie and Antoinette — the book follows them both as they try to cope with a life of near poverty. Antoinette finds work as a laundress or as an extra on the stage, but nothing is enough to take her mind and body away from a lover who makes bad decisions. Being younger, Marie is sent to train as a ballet dancer in the Opera, where she soon catches the attention of the artist Edgar Degas and becomes a model for some of his famous work. What did I expect from all of these components? Was there a masterpiece in the making?

I don’t know.

I feel as if this book left me not knowing much of anything other than the fact that I did not like it. I felt no connection whatsoever to the characters. The plot unraveled and left me with no suspense. More often than not I felt as if I were coasting through the book, often checking the page numbers to see when I would just be done with it. Sure, there is plenty of scandalous activity that is fitting for the times. Yes, there is a true story behind the muse and artist relationship between Degas and Marie. But I did not buy into it; I felt as if I were an outsider. I want a story that will sweep me away not only with details of location but into the hearts and souls of the characters. The Painted Girls did not accomplish that

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