A heartrending, gripping novel about two sisters in Belle Époque Paris.
1878 Paris. 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 seventeen francs a week, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.
Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. There she meets a wealthy male patron of the ballet, but might the assistance he offers come with strings attached? Meanwhile Antoinette, derailed by her love for the dangerous Émile Abadie, must choose between honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde.
Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of “civilized society.” In the end, each will come to realize that her salvation, if not survival, lies with the other.
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Cathy Marie Buchanan is the author of the national bestseller The Day the Falls Stood Still, a Barnes & Noble Recommends selection and an Indie Next pick. She lives in Toronto.Review:
Sketched in rich detail and teeming with suspense. The Painted Girls is hard to put down. (The Globe and Mail)
Buchanan weaves real and fictional characters and their stories to create a rich stew of drunkards, deceivers and ne’er-do-wells, seasoned by the occasional soft-hearted soul, who change the lives of the sisters. (Toronto Star)
The reader is completely absorbed in the struggle of Marie to rise above her circumstances. . . . [A] convincing, heartfelt story. (National Post)
History, coming of age and the art of Degas’s beloved dancers are woven together in this enchanting novel. Utterly captivating. (Vincent Lam, author of The Headmaster's Wager and Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures)
You will be swept away by The Painted Girls. Wonderfully imagined and masterfully rendered . . . [it] will change the way you see the world of ballet, art and the lives it portrays. (Shilpi Somaya Gowda, New York Times and internationally bestselling author of Secret Daughter)
“Buchanan paints the girls who spring from the page as vibrantly as a dancer’s leap across a stage. . . . A captivating story of fate, tarnished ambition and the ultimate triumph of sister-love.” (Washington Post)
“Based on historical figures and incidents, this novel of family, romance, degradation, and fulfillment delivers great atmosphere and fully-realized characters.” (Boston Globe)
“Richly imagined. . . . Amid the glamour of tutus and art emerges a surprisingly gritty story of survival in the gutters of Belle époque Paris.” (Entertainment Weekly)
“Belle époque Paris springs to life under the sure hand of Cathy Marie Buchanan. . . . In this book I found a lovely braiding of the real and invented, a seductive world I did not want to leave.” (NPR)
“Buchanan achieves all that historical fiction asks for in The Painted Girls.” (Vancouver Sun)
“Buchanan’s prose is as haunting as it is elegant.” (Harper's Bazaar)
“Two impoverished sisters in Belle époque Paris enter the world of the ballet (Degas) and theater (Zola) but also face temptations that can lure young women in the demimonde.” (USA Today)
“In The Painted Girls, a carefully researched, deeply imagined historical novel . . . the Belle époque comes to vibrant, often aching life.” (Chicago Tribune)
“A dark valentine to Belle époque Paris.” (Vogue)
“As two sisters’ paths converge and spiral out of control, Buchanan powerfully . . . depicts their efforts to navigate the slippery ethical terrain facing them in an era when a young woman’s most lucrative asset was her body.” (Bust Magazine)
“There’s no doubting or denying that Buchanan is a writer, born and made-a masterful narrator who can start with historical people and places and overlay them with powerful stories from her imagination.” (Costco Connection)
“A realistically robust portrait of working-class life in late nineteenth-century Paris. Guaranteed to appeal to fans of Tracy Chevalier, Susan Vreeland, and Melanie Benjamin.” (Booklist)
“The struggle of three sisters in 19th-century Paris blossoms into the rich history of Marie van Goethem, model for Edgar Degas’s controversial statue, Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen . . . Buchanan captures their story in this engrossing depiction of belle époque Paris.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Buchanan does a masterful job of interweaving historical figures into her plot, but it is the moving yet unsentimental portrait of family love, of two sisters struggling to survive with dignity, that makes this a must-read.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
“Fascinating. . . . Meticulously researched.” (Quill & Quire)
“In this compelling tale, we meet fictionalised Marie Van Goethem (one of the young dancers who posed for Degas) and her sister, whose journeys out of the Paris slums evoke the light and dark of the Belle époque.” (Good Housekeeping)
“[Buchanan] treats her girls with far greater care than do their contemporaries, seeing worth in them despite their misjudgments and calamities.” (Christian Science Monitor)
“We know some, but not all, details of Marie’s life. To provide a full story, those details have been vividly and believably embroidered by Toronto author Cathy Marie Buchanan in a gritty and compelling new novel titled The Painted Girls.” (Ottawa Citizen)
“History, coming of age and the art of Degas’s beloved dancers are woven together in this enchanting novel. Utterly captivating.” (Vincent Lam, author of The Headmaster's Wager and Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures)
“You will be swept away by The Painted Girls. Wonderfully imagined and masterfully rendered . . . [it] will change the way you see the world of ballet, art and the lives it portrays.” (Shilpi Somaya Gowda, New York Times and internationally bestselling author of Secret Daughter and The Golden Son)
“Buchanan writes masterfully about the hard life of two sisters in 19th-century Paris. . . . A wonderful tale, beautifully told.” (Terry Fallis, author of The Best Laid Plans)
“Part mystery, part love story, The Painted Girls breathes heart and soul into a fascinating era of the City of Lights. One can’t help but be drawn in by this compelling and lyrical tale of sister love and rivalry.” (Heidi W. Durrow, author of The Girl Who Fell from the Sky)
“Historical fiction at its finest. . . . 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 and The Aviator's Wife)
“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)
“Beautiful and haunting. From the first page, I was swept up and enchanted.” (Amy Greene, author of Bloodroot)
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