The Painted Girls

  • by Cathy Marie Buchanan
  • Narrated by Cassandra Campbell, Julia Whelan, Danny Cambell
  • 12 hrs and 15 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Paris, 1878: Following the death of their father from overwork, the three van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without their father’s wages, and with what little their mother earns as a laundress disappearing down the absinthe bottle, eviction from their single boarding room seems imminent. With few options for work available for a girl, bookish 14-year-old Marie and her younger sister Charlotte are dispatched to the Paris Opera, where for a scant seven francs a week, the girls will be trained to enter its famous ballet. Their older sister, stubborn and insolent 17-year-old Antoinette, dismissed from the ballet, finds herself launched into the orbit of Émile Zola and the influence of his notorious naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir - and into the arms of a young man who may turn out to be a murderer.
Marie throws herself into dance, hoping her natural gift and hard work will enable her to escape her circumstances, but the competition to become one of the famous étoiles at whose feet flowers are thrown nightly is fierce, and Marie is forced to turn elsewhere to make money. Cripplingly self-conscious about her low-class appearance, she nonetheless finds herself modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized in his controversial sculpture Little Dancer, Aged 14. Antoinette, meanwhile, descends lower and lower in society and must make the choice between honest labor as a laundress and the more profitable avenues available to a young woman in the Paris demimonde - that is unless her love for the dangerous Émile Abadie derails her completely.
Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, The Painted Girls is ultimately a tale of two remarkable girls rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of "civilized society". In the end, each will come to realize that her individual salvation, if not survival, lies with the other.

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What the Critics Say

The Painted Girls is historical fiction at its finest, awash in period details of the Paris of Degas and Zola while remaining, at its heart, the poignant story of two sisters struggling to stay together even as they find themselves pulled toward different, and often misunderstood, dreams. Cathy Marie Buchanan also explores the uneasy relationship between artist and muse with both compassion and soul-searing honesty.” (Melanie Benjamin, author of Alice I Have Been)
“Sisters, dance, art, ambition, and intrigue in late 1800s Paris. The Painted Girls offers the best of historical fiction: compelling characters brought backstage at l’Opera and front and center in Degas’ studio. This one has ‘book club favorite’ written all over it.” (Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Wednesday Sisters)
“Will hold you enthralled as it spools out the vivid story of young sisters in late nineteenth century Paris struggling to transcend their lives of poverty through the magic of dance. I guarantee, you will never look at Edgar Degas’s immortal sculpture of the Little Dancer in quite the same way again.” (Kate Alcott, author of The Dressmaker)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Only a Pastel Version of the *Beautiful Era*

A beautiful carving is made at the expense of all that is thrown away...a thought that describes this story of the young *ballet rat* that poses for Edgar Degas's sculpture, (Little Dancer of Fourteen) her family, and the Belle Epoque period of France. Behind the beauty of the opera, ballet, and the arts, is the contrast of the discarded and impoverished, their hard and sad lives of struggling to make a living.

The Belle Epoque.."the beautiful era"...Van Gogh, Gaugin, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, the birth of Impressionism, the Ballet Russes, Baudelaire, Debussy, Ravel...a primordial soup of creativity in an amazing time. But Painted Girls views only the underbelly of Paris, through the eyes of 3 sisters struggling to pay rent and buy bread--the artists to them are men or patrons who will pay money for *services.* With such a vibrant and creative climate, the author never uses the full palette available, and paints only a watery view of Paris at its artistic height. It ends up being a story that could be told in almost any era.

I thought the first half of the book slow and almost juvenile, told through the younger girl's point of view; then the older sister starts to narrate, and the book quickly goes blue. Definitely not a YA novel! The debauchery the girls have to put up with just to make a living is sad to listen to, and even worse, their acceptance of that fact of life. The focus shifts to the older sister's infatuation with a young man--with all the charm of Bill Sikes--accused of murder. Degas makes just a brief appearance (his sculpture of the girl obviously gained its appreciation after his death), and while a few ballets of the times are mentioned, the listener hears more about the barre work than the lavish productions or famous dancers.

To the patient listener, there is a story, and even some historical bits, but it was much less than what I had anticipated (the 3* overall should probably be 2*)--even with the author's research, and so very slow. The narrator does a good job with the pronunciation of French names, as well as with the different female characters; her attempt at the male voices could have been spared by using Danny Campbell for all of the male parts instead of just the interludes...miniscule issue.

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- Mel

Great concept does not realize its full potential

Buchanan has taken some real historical people - some famous, some infamous, some unknown - woven some facts and some fictional plot twists together to create a unified storyline between some Degas' artwork, some historical figures, and the popular 19th century (and some earlier times) pseudo-scientific theory of physiognomy.. It is a really interesting concept for a novel but it falls short in implementation. The Painted Girls is less historical fiction than a period piece (late 19th century Paris, lower socio economic classes), but it's a period piece that provides only glimpses and not a real picture. More like watching the story unfold through a peephole than through a large window. The plot moves at a good pace (I feared the boredom of The Girl with a Pearl Earring, but that was not the case with The Painted Girls) and I definitely enjoyed the sections of the story that wove the artwork of Degas into the story. But, ultimately, I wasn't drawn into the time period and maybe partly as a result of that, I didn't connect with any of the characters. Frustrating people, often making bad decisions, and I just didn't care what happened to them. Overall, I was entertained and learned a bit from the novel, but it was disappointing that a rather creative concept just didn't quite deliver a KO punch.

The performances by the narrators were satisfactory although there is an obvious challenge in a audiobook when the novel's dialog is in English but spoken by characters who actually would clearly speak French. When you read, your brain kind of finds a place where your imagination makes the bridge for that. But listening to American accents throw around French names and places using French pronunciations right in the middle of a sentence is constantly pulling you out of the setting - it is just kind of distracting. This book might be one that just is better read than heard.

I didn't mind spending a credit on the book, but my recommendation for it would be tepid at best.
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- Tango

Book Details

  • Release Date: 01-10-2013
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.