Friday, July 18, 2014

BOOK: The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan (12 h, 16 min)

Three sisters in 1880s Paris trying to survive. Their father has died, the mother is a laundress (when she isn't drunk). Antoinette is seventeen and trying to look after her younger sisters, but she also wants a life and is drawn to a bad fellow, Emil. She gets her sisters into the Paris Opera to study ballet, even after she herself got kicked out. Marie, who alternates narrating with Antoinette, gets noticed by Edgar Degas and begins to pose for him. Marie was the real-life model for the statuette, 'Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.'

It's a rough world for the girls in Paris, and many bad things happen to them - the brothels, jails, taverns, and men who 'support' the petit-rats, ballet dancers in training. Listening, I couldn't determine where the story was going for a long time; just survival and the girls. Eventually, boyfriend Emil gets charged with some crimes and this trial comes between the sisters. The quote from Le Figaro sums it up "No social being is less protected than the young Parisian girl -- by laws, regulations, and social customs."

Much art work is referenced in this well researched book. In fact, this page has a picture of each piece of art mentioned, and the quote that goes with it. It's things like this, even after the fact, that can improve a book's experience for me. I didn't realize that many of the characters are based on real people, including the van Goethem sisters, and Emil and his buddy who are put on trial. There is another level of the book which references a theory at the time that physiology and facial features determined a person's destiny. Between the art incorporated, the real life characters, the city of Paris in the 1880s as a character, the ballet experience, and the specific sisters' relationship, this was a great read for Paris in July.