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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.
20 of 23 people found this review helpful
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.
8 of 9 people found this review helpful