February Book Club Choice: The Painted Girls

The Painted Girls. Harper Collins Canada

The Painted Girls. Harper Collins Canada

Welcome to She Said/She Said, where GGC Members from across Canada are our book reviewers who share their opinions about this month’s book choice: The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan (published by Harper Collins Canada).

This book is intended for adults aged 18 and older, and may contain profanity, scenes of violence and sexual content.

Stephanie Nash

Stephanie Nash

She Said: Stephanie Nash
Guider, 2nd Mount Hope Guides & Pathfinders

Late 19th century Paris, a family struggling with circumstance.  The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan tells a story of three sisters, forced to make moral compromises when their father dies and Maman turns to absinthe, dooming them to a life in squalor.

The story is told from the point of view of Antoinette and Marie.  Antoinette, the oldest of the three sisters, feels it is her duty to look out for the younger girls.  She knows that their best chance of survival lies in the ballet and having attended the school herself, she manipulates an audition for the younger girls.  Marie and Charlotte are both accepted in the dance school much to Antoinette’s delight; but, while waiting for her sisters she meets Émile Abadie and her world begins a downward spiral.

Marie, reluctant to leave her studies, joins the Paris Opéra where it becomes evident she has an incredible gift for dance.  It is there that she encounters Edgar Degas and begins modeling, often in the nude, for a meager yet vital income.  Marie’s intelligence and strong spirit are what guide her.  She refuses to become another statistic and works diligently to build a better life for herself; until one fateful day when she is faced with a decision that ultimately becomes her undoing.

The Painted Girls will capture the reader from the start.  Buchanan dives right in painting a scene that leaves the reader wanting more.  How will the girls survive?  Will they be successful at the Opéra?  Will Marie succeed in creating a better future for herself, and will Antoinette finally realize Émile for what he really is?

As a work of historical fiction, Buchanan does an amazing job of incorporating tidbits of reality making it easier for the reader to relate to the characters and their circumstances.  We bond with the girls and find ourselves rooting for them and wanting to help them.  The ending is, in my opinion, exactly what it should be.  It closes off the story nicely and the reader feels complete, not left wanting more.

I would give this book a 4 out of 5 star rating.

Rachel S.

Rachel S.

She Said: Rachel Shoup
Guider, 27th Guelph Guides

Though billed as the story of Marie Van Goethem, Cathy Marie Buchanan’s The Painted Girls ultimately tells the story of two sisters, Marie and Antoinette, as they grow up in Paris during the late 1800s. Painted Girls appealed to me because Marie Van Goethem was the real life inspiration and model for Edgar Degas’ Little Dance Aged Fourteen, an artist and artwork I have long admired.

 Cathy Marie Buchanan has expertly woven true-to-life period influences into her book to bring her fiction to life, creating a highly effective piece of historical fiction. Darwinian ideas of criminology weave the lives of Marie and Antoinette into the lives of Émile Abadie and Pierre Gille, two famous criminals of the time. The story grapples with ideas of image, self-worth, and expectations—and one’s ability to either live up to them, or exceed them.

Cathy Marie Buchanan writes from experience. According to her website, she herself practiced ballet as a teenager. This comes across in the writing. She effortlessly adopts the language of ballet. While impressive, this was actually problematic for me. Some further explanation (or even a visual glossary) would have been helpful. Aside from some of the technical language, the story is highly accessible. Told in first person, from both sisters’ perspective, it at times felt like reading a diary. This narrative style gave way to fast-paced reading and an interesting perspective; as a reader I was privy to both sisters’ thoughts.

If you’re going to read this novel, I’d like to direct you towards Cathy Marie Buchanan’s website.  Many of Degas’ works as discussed in the book are available to view and add a much-needed visual dimension to the text. It would have been great to have these images at hand, within the pages of the book. Fortunately, access to these images via the Painted Girls website is the next best thing.

I would give this book a 4 out of 5 star rating.

Rachel Shoup is a Guider with the 27th Guelph Guides. She has recently completed her undergraduate at the University of Guelph, studying Environmental Governance and English.

This entry was posted in GGC Book Club and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s