The Painted Girls: A Novel

by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Hardcover, 2013




Riverhead Books (2013), Edition: First Edition, 368 pages


In belle époque Paris, the Van Goethem sisters struggle for survival after the sudden death of their father, a situation that prompts young Marie's ballet training and her introduction to a genius painter.


½ (295 ratings; 3.7)

Media reviews

The Painted Girls is a quick and cinematic read that is hard to put down, destined to be hotly debated book-club fodder across the country...Buchanan’s complete immersion in the time period and setting is obvious, and the reader is quickly present in the city, with its glamour, grit, hardships
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and peculiarities. An author’s note at the end of the book details exactly what is taken from historical record and what was created or embellished for the story.... It was a drag that this part of the narrative didn’t veer from the obvious, but it’s a small thing. For the overall story is a tremendous achievement, and the book is fast-paced leap around Paris at a unique time in its history.
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The reader is completely absorbed in the struggle of Marie to rise above her circumstances. It has been said that the great engine of fiction is desire, the terrible urgent want of characters for what they do not have. This is vividly clear in the case of the van Goethem sisters, and that want
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makes for a strong, suspenseful narrative. The narrative drive is somewhat muted by the author’s prose style, however — her sentences have a tendency to carry just a smidgen too much detail. “Monsieur Degas’s lips press tight, and then his eyebrows pull together, the ends closest to his nose lifting up,” runs a characteristic sentence. Metaphors can also be laboured, as when the “harsh tang of fear” is compared to the “skin of a walnut.” The effect is sometimes of a clotted prose.....The question remains: can Buchanan’s characters defy that milieu and defy the laws of Zola? It is a question left in doubt until almost the last page of this convincing, heartfelt story.
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Reminiscent of Tracy Chevalier’s novel Girl with a Pearl Earring, Cathy Marie Buchanan’s second novel tells the fascinating story of the young 19th-century Parisian ballerina who posed for Edgar Degas’ famous sculpture Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen. But while Chevalier’s novel (about the
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inspiration for the eponymous painting) is entirely imaginative, Buchanan’s meticulously researched book is based largely on historical record.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
Edgar Degas created a statuette entitled “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” and in the pages of The Painted Girls, author Cathy Marie Buchanan tells the story of not only the young model, Marie van Goethem but also that of her sisters, Antoinette and Charlotte. Living in the slums of Montmartre with
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an alcoholic mother the three girls, needing a steady income for survival, plan to be dancers at the Paris Opera. To become a dancer is a way for them to avoid the pitfalls of life on the streets, they start as Petit Rats with long hours of practice, learning to leap with grace and balance en pointe. Doing this they can earn enough to keep from starvation, but always there is the chance that their talent will advance them with the benefits of more money and a much better lifestyle.

As the story starts, 17 year old Antoinette has been dismissed from the Opera for rudeness and being wilful. Marie and Charlotte are just beginning as Petit Rats. Marie works hard and appears to be starting her climb, she catches the eye of the artist Degas and works on the side as his model. Charlotte at 7 is the baby of the family and is much more self-absorbed. A pretty but selfish child, she appears to be the natural dancer of the three.

The story unfolds by alternating the viewpoint between Antoinette and Marie, and there is a lot to take in. This appears to be not only the story of these sisters, but also of Paris in 1878. This is a gritty tale of the ballet, the brothels, the taverns, and the prisons of Paris. These girls have choices but hanging over their heads at all times is the need to survive.

This was a fascinating story, but personally I always felt a step or so removed from the characters. So while I appreciated this tale of fate and destiny and loved the setting, The Painted Girls did not captivate me to the point of becoming totally absorbed. In fact I felt so disengaged that I found myself frequently checking to see how many more pages were left in the book. I love to love or hate my characters, but indifference just leaves me cold.
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LibraryThing member cameling
Historical fiction around the van Goethem sisters in the City of Lights in the late 1800s. Marie van Goethem and her younger sister Charlotte are excepted into the Opéra where they're paid pittance to be trained as ballet dancers. Marie catches the eye of Edgar Degas and models for him to make
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extra money. She is immortalized in his painting 'Little Dancer Aged Fourteen'. She also meets a wealthy patron whose interest grows more uncomfortable.

Their older sister, Antoinette, manages to land a part in L'Assommoir and gets involved with charming but disturbing Emile Abadie, who is later arrested and charged with murdering a tavern owner's wife. She believes in his innocence and tries to raise money for passage to New Caledonia, believing it to be a fresh start for her and Emile.

The story follows primarily the lives of these 2 sisters, their ambitions to leave the poverty they find themselves in after the death of their father, the challenges that overwhelm them, the challenges they overcome, and the love they share.

It's a dark look at the less glittering side of French society. The author's taken liberty in mixing Emile Abadie with the company of the van Goethem sisters, but it adds well placed drama to the story.
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LibraryThing member PaperbackPirate
I requested this book as an Early Reviewer because I read the author's first book, The Day the Falls Stood Still, a few years ago and loved it. The Painted Girls did not disappoint!

This well-researched historical fiction novel takes place in Paris 1878. It follows the van Goethem sisters as they
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struggle to survive after their father dies. Luckily the oldest sister, Antoinette, once trained in ballet for the Paris Opera and uses her mischievous ways to get auditions for her little sisters. Little did I know, but they used to pay girls to train for the ballet.

Every other chapter is told from the middle sister, Marie's, point of view, although the story mainly centers around her. She wants nothing more than stability for her family. Marie is a hard worker who loves music and her family, which makes her accessible to almost all of us. One way she makes extra money is by posing for Edgar Degas. He has a smaller role in this story but is still well developed as a character.

This is an excellent sister story, but I also felt the author was making a commentary on our roles in the world. Can you truly pull yourself up by your bootstraps or were you born to your lot in life? This underlying theme provides us with some uncomfortable and thoughtful moments.

Read this book and you will be magicked away to a time and place very different from our own. Fortunately the characters will make you feel at home.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
Paris in 1873, but not the beautiful Paris filled with beautiful people, but the people trying to survive. The washerwomen, those who take in sewing, those who are hungry and those who will do anything to feed their families. Three sisters, a mother addicted to absinthe, and the girls using ballet
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as a means to make a little money and hopefully a way to better themselves. This was the part of the novel I liked best, the way the sisters tried to take care of each other. Marie, the middle girl, end up modeling for Degas, makes a little extra money and makes some very bad decisions. The sights, sounds and yes even the squalor of Paris are wonderfully emoted by the author. Degas, the arts, ballet, theater are all added bonuses. The tone is dark, this is the darkside of the glamour we think of when we think of dance,theater and art. There is a murder trial, many societal changes and we get a front row seat while reading this atmospheric novel. ARC from publisher.
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LibraryThing member containedobsession
This book takes place during the late 19th century in Paris. The story focuses on a poor working class family of young women: Antoinette, Marie, Charlotte, and their absinthe-addicted mother. Their father’s death has left them struggling to make the rent and put food on the table. The girls’
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most promising escape is to become part of the ballet corps at the Paris Opera House.

Through their engrossing story, we learn about the novel’s themes of sisterhood, family, poverty, dance, art, vulnerability, and the most interesting theme (for me) of physiogonomy. Judging a person’s character by their appearance, especially of the face, was popular during this time. The novel explores how people might react or be influenced by such a wide-spread pseudoscientific theory. How would that affect your behavior and your potential?

The narrative switches between Marie and Antoinette’s stories. We see the desperation of the petit rats behind the glamour of the ballet and opera house and the poverty of the working class. We see how a famous artist (Degas) might have painted his models. As Marie and Antoinette’s stories intersected and came to its emotional and satisfying conclusion, I was enthralled by what would happen next. This book is highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Jackie.the.Librarian
The Painted Girls tells the story of the early lives of the VanGoethem sisters during the Belle Époque of late 19th century Paris. There are 3 sisters but the story is only narrated by 2 of them: Antoinette and Marie. All of the sisters are affiliated with the Paris Opera Ballet.

However these are
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no Prima Ballerinas; instead they are poor girls scrounging to survive, with no father around to provide for them and an alcoholic mother waiting at home. Because of their dire situation, Marie, the middle sister, begins modeling for some extra francs. The artist she poses for is Edgar Degas, whose non-romanticized paintings illustrate the grittier side of Parisian life. His work is not yet fully appreciated (or understood) by his audience.

While Marie is trying to scrimp and save for her family, her older sister Antoinette is falling head over heels in love with a man who may or may not prove to be her undoing. The story was very engaging and well written. However, I pined for the perspective of the third sister, Charlotte. Although she is portrayed as rather vapid and self-absorbed, she definitely undergoes a transformation, as do Marie and Antoinette. It would've been interesting to be a witness to this. Another issue I had was the portrayal of Degas. His character was rather boring and wishy-washy, never really fully formed.

All in all, a good book and a must-read for any Francophile!
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LibraryThing member hollysing
Enchanting as Ballet Steps

The tone of the book is set well by this quote from a French daily newspaper that introduces us to the first chapter—“No social being is less protected than the young Parisian girl—by laws, regulations, and social customs (Le Figaro, 1880).

The book is beautifully
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rendered. Nineteenth century Parisian ballet is painted with lyrical prose. “Each step must be given a particular character, your hallmark as a dancer.” The focus here is not on the rich and the glitter, but rather on the difficulties and challenges of the poor during this period of cultural and societal change. Much is here for lovers of dance, art and sculpture. The author’s love for ballet spills over the pages even in descriptions that hint at dance. “…dipping only her toe into sleep.” The corridors the book explores are the darker side of ballet, the artwork of Degas, and the survival skills of two sisters thrown into desperate situations.

The Author’s Note tells us that The Painted Girls is based on the early lives of three van Goethem sisters: Antoinette, Marie and Charlotte. After their father’s death, Marie and Charlotte are accepted into the dance school of the Paris Opera. The eldest sister, Antoinette, already employed there as an extra, Marie models for Degas as he sculpts Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. (Google an image of this sculpture for a better understanding of the plot and the statement Degas made in his sculpture.) Antoinette makes difficult choices between honest work and dangerous love. The book contains some salacious scenes used to depict the depravity of young Parisian girls used in beastly manners by men.

I thank LibraryThing for providing an ARC for my unbiased review.

Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of [Crestmont]
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LibraryThing member TheLostEntwife
When I was a little girl I craved books about ballet - scouring the shelves of the library, looking through bookstores, garage sales, and flea markets trying to find anything that would have pictures of pointe shoes, references to famous ballerina's or composers of ballets. I still remember reading
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a book I found at a garage sale so many times that it literally fell apart in my hands one day (but for some reason I cannot recall the title of it, I just know it was so so good to my nine-year-old self).

I wasn't a big fan of Cathy Marie Buchanan's previous novel, so I approached The Painted Girls with some trepidation. I mean, her writing was sound - but the subject matter in her previous book left me a little, well, bored. That did not happen with The Painted Girls.

Told from two viewpoints, sisters Antoinette and Marie, this is the story of a family who has lost its father, the mother is a drunkard, the oldest sister a foolish girl and the younger one struggling to find her footing. There is a third sister, Charlotte, but she does not receive much of a voice in this story.

Also making an appearance in this book is the painter, Degas, and Buchanan references quite a few of his famous pieces of art to give the story setting and context.

I found The Painted Girls to be a heart-breaking, beautiful story and I walked away feeling like I'd read something that wasn't only interesting, but educational and enriching as well. Buchanan has redeemed herself in my eyes with this subject matter and I'm anxiously awaiting her next project.
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LibraryThing member Stacey42
This is historic fiction about the real life VanGoethem sisters. It is narrated by Antoinette & Marie, though we learn about the third sister, Charlotte, as well. They lose their father when they are young and shortly after Marie & Charlotte are accepted into the Paris Opera dance school.
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Antoinette is already performing there as an extra.

Marie takes a job as a model to earn extra money and ends up becoming the model for Degas' work 'Little Dancer Aged Fourteen'. Antoinette becomes involved with Emile Abadie, who is charged with murdering a woman & Antoinette does her best to raise money so they can leave France and start new lives. Less is heard about Charlotte.

This is a very atmospheric novel, with a lot of detail & background giving the reader a great feel for the times & lives of the people involved. Life was harsh for the young poverty stricken girls at the Paris Opera. No one looked out for them or protected them and with their father dead & their mother an alcoholic, the VanGoethem sisters were especially vulnerable.

I very much enjoyed this book, though I wish Charlotte had been given a voice in the narrative as well as her sisters.
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LibraryThing member michigantrumpet
This novel played to several of my many interests -- ballet, art, Paris, Zola, Degas, historical fiction. I was not disappointed. We follow the fortunes of the 1870's Parisian Van Goethem sisters, having lost their father. Their laundress mother seems lost in her absinthe bottle, leaving them in
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peril of being thrown out of their tiny rooms. Antoinette, the oldest and taking on responsibility for her sisters, earns a place as an extra in a new play based on Zola's L'Assommair. At rehearsals, she is swept off her feet by Emile Abadie. Marie, her sister, has been working hard at the dance school of the Paris Opera, hoping for a place onstage. Intelligent and hard working, she supplements her income modeling for Monsieur Degas. Young impetuous Charlotte is the pet of her sisters and the neighborhood, also dancing long hours in the school. The novel is highly atmospheric and apparently faithful to the little known of the family. Their gut-wrenching poverty and bleak prospects mirror what is known of the petit rats - young dancers, often preyed upon by aristocratic 'sponsors.' In this way, the title takes on more than one meaning. Ultimately a reflection on loyalty, devotion and sisterly love. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to those with similar interests.
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LibraryThing member amandacb
"The Painted Girls" is a solid historical fiction work that combines the stories of dancing sisters with the gritty underbelly of Paris. One sister becomes an obsession of the painter Degas, which is an interesting vein for the novel to take. I wish the novel would have delved more in that
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LibraryThing member ltcl
A visit to Paris 1878. The Painted Girls gives us a glimpse of the grey foggy world of the ballet corps, the absinthe filled days of a mother who has lost her husband and must send out her daughters to become petit-rats at the ballet to bring home the money needed to pay their debts or be cast off
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into the streets. The true cost is of their innocence. Marie is chosen to be a model at the studio of Edgar Degas and is taken on in the ballet to begin her career while her older sister, Antoinette falls from the ballet to work in the theatre as an extra and worse looking for love in all the wrong places.
This is not the glamorous side of Paris but the truer vision of the working class, one step away from despair and one step away from being discovered. Beautifully written if not achingly sad, The Painted Girls will haunt your thoughts well after the last page is read.
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LibraryThing member caseylondon
You can marvel at her face, the strength of purpose in her ballerina stance, the thin legs, the pride of her upturned face and the arched discomfort from holding her hands behind her back. Marie Van Goethem was only 14, a “le petit rat,” of the Paris Opera and a working class child of truly
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humble origin when she posed for Impressionist Edgar Degas. Her story and that of her sisters in the late 1870’s is told by historical novelist Cathy Marie Buchannan in THE PAINTED GIRLS, a rare look at a poor family of Paris and the daughters who flee to the Paris Opera House for ballet training and perhaps as adornments to men who wait in the wings.

The author does a superb job of telling the story of empty cupboards and lonely hearts, broken promises and broken hearts, fear and joy, reaching for a life just beyond the touch of the young girls, redemption and forgiveness. She also paints a Paris of the 18778-1895 rich in spectacle; famous men, art and science (well, this is arguable), and still the poor endure as always with little change in their day-to-day lives.

Three sisters, an absinthe addicted Mother, the Paris Opera, a murder trial, a kind baker, a secret lover, and Degas all are part of the novel that will keep a reader turning pages to discover more about Marie and her true life story.
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LibraryThing member Carolee888
When I was young, my father played classical music a lot. His medical office was on the other side of our duplex and he had it piped into our house. I felt the music and often danced to it. I would have loved to take ballet lessons but the money was not there. Years later, we went to the New York
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World's Fair and I bought a beautiful illustrated book of the Bolshoi Ballet. I poured over that book many times so when I saw the cover of this book; I instantly wanted to read it.

I was not disappointed by Cathy Marie Buchanan's The Painted Girls. It sparkles with small moments of happiness and big disappointments. it is heartbraking at some time and delightful at others.

Set in 1878 in Paris, this book tells the story of the life of the little girl who posed for Degas' Little Dancer Aged Fourteen sculpture and her sister's very different life. The portrayals bring to life the extreme poverty and desperateness to survive. There is a third sister is much younger and seems to be a little brat at the beginning. Their father had died and their mother was addicted to absinthe. Will they be able to break out the terrible hole of hopelessness that Emile Zola writes of at that time?

This wonderfully written engages you from beginning to end. You wonder how Marie will have the stamina to carry on her will to help the family and whether Antoinette who is attracted to the dark side by her boyfriend will be able stay with the family. Also, you will learn the tremendous cost to the young ballet students had to pay to eventually participate in the lavish productions of the Paris productions.

If you have any interest in ballet or historical fiction, I know that you will love this book.
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LibraryThing member 4leschats
The book opens with an epigram about the vulnerability of young girls in the 19th century. Capturing the time of Degas and Zola and the focus on the working class and the poor, this novel follows Marie van Goethem, a model for Degas, and her 2 sisters. After the death of their father, the girls
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have only their absinthe addicted mother. Since oldest daughter, Marie, is already in the Opera, the younger girls join as well. Even with everyone working, the family is regularly behind on rent and without food. Therefore, some sections are a bit depressing, though realistically and atmospherically detailed and evocative. Yet, Buchan manages to bring the story to a hopeful resolution.
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LibraryThing member Pickle115
I'm a lover of historical fiction and this one didn't let me down. The ballet isn't necessarily something I'm interested in but Ms. Buchannan made me forget that. I have a copy of her first book and now I have a reason to pull it out. Well-written and beautiful!
LibraryThing member Electablue
This book shed light on the lives of the ballerinas in Paris and their modeling for Renoir. For some reason, I had a hard time finishing it and would like to re-read it at some point in the future.
LibraryThing member lauriebrown54
The story starts in 1878 Paris, in the slums where the van Goethem sisters live with their alcoholic, recently widowed mother. Sources of income are few and far between; the mother works long hours of hard labor at a laundry and doesn’t make enough to feed the family. In the France of this era,
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there is no safety net for the poor and young girls are pretty much regarded as useless, evil parasites. The girls go to the Paris Opera, taking ballet lessons and hoping to get hired by the Ballet, where they will not only be paid a semi-decent wage but will be exposed to men that can afford to keep them, a way out of the gutter.

Antoinette, the oldest at 17, has had her chance and proved not a good enough dancer. Now she must find another way to earn money, and her two younger sisters, Marie, 14, and Charlotte, 7, will make their attempts at the Ballet.

Marie gets lucky, in a way: Edgar Degas, not yet a famous artist, wants her to model for him. She is paid well for this, although it exposes her to a man who says he is an artist but never seems to actually draw during modeling sessions. Antoinette finds various employment, and finds herself in her first love relationship with a young man who gets accused of murder. The story is told from Antoinette’s and Marie’s points of view in alternate chapters, and their stories twine around each other as they try to find happiness in a world that despises them and are tested to their limits of what they’ll do for love. Through the story runs the theory of the time, that a person’s facial features show their inner selves. People with low foreheads, bad teeth, and forward thrusting jaws are branded as stupid, lazy, and natural criminals.

The van Goethem sisters were real; Marie was the model for Degas’s famous sculpture ‘Little Dancer Aged Fourteen’. Charlotte danced with the Ballet for years, advancing to the rank of sujet, a part time soloist. Antoinette’s lover was also real, although chances are the two never met in real life. There are two main themes in the book: sisterly love, and the way the poor were treated at the time. The girls and the streets of Paris come to life in these pages. I rooted for them all the way and stayed up late reading.
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LibraryThing member Angelina-Justice
The writing in this book is lyrical, poignant and very real. Like Degas paintings, the true nature of the girls unfolds in this story. It is a striking picture of the times, as seen from the proletariat. It is ironic yet fitting that the central characters are so involved in the arts. Like Degas
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and his contemporaries, Buchanan seeks to shed light on the people.
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LibraryThing member susiesharp
This was an interesting story with very well done, fully fleshed out characters , and with what I love about historical fiction, it made me go do research so I had Degas’ Ballerina portraits and the little dancer sculpture on my computer so I could look at them while reading. These characters are
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all very flawed but really just trying to survive the world the best they know how.

The story of these girls was fascinating and I loved the liberty the author took to combine Emil’s story with Antoinette & Marie’s I think it added such a great layer of depth to the story, where if it hadn’t been there, this book would have had less “meat” to it. There is a third sister in this story but to me she was just a secondary character to Antoinette & Marie, yet even though their mother is a smaller part of the story too I really felt her presence whenever she was in a scene, like when she was visiting Antoinette but really she wasn’t there to see her daughter it was just an excuse for a few extra hours off work. I thought this epitomized who this woman was.

This is also a great look at life especially for the poor in the late 1800’s and how once their father dies they have to find work somewhere, there were much worse “professions” than being a dancer or even a nude model for an artist and we all know what that is. These girls don’t have it easy and go through some pretty tough times and tough men. Also the insight into the paintings of Degas that I think everyone has seen even if they don’t realize who the artist is was fascinating, he seems to be one of the few artists that actually had a modicum of success while he was still alive. I have always found his work fascinating because of its day in a life aspects’ so that made his part in this book extra interesting to me.

Cassandra Campbell narrates the older sister and Julia Whelan narrates the younger, both were very good, while their voices are similar (like sisters) but you could always tell which sister was speaking. Danny Campbell’s narration of the newspaper clipping interspersed in the story was at first jarring but once I got used to it he was fine but I do need to comment that his voice is a cross between Casey Kasem and Johnny Heller and at times was a little moviephone sounding but I still liked his voice because it is husky and smoky with a little gravel to it. There is also a couple times where the ladies sound like they are from the streets of NY instead of Paris but when I looked at the print version I saw that this is how the author wrote the speech patterns so can’t really fault the narrators. I guess it was kind of like ok all street waifs sound the same in this time period no matter what country they were from so just go with it. I did like that they went all in on no accents there were a couple times where other characters had a slight accent just a slight rolling of the R’s , but the two main character had the same accent all the way through, it was an American accents but I would rather have that than listening to a badly done Pepe Lepew sounding French accent so I believe the right choice was made on this narration.

I highly recommend this book it is good historical fiction with a little look into the world of Degas, a little mystery and the daily life of the downtrodden of the late 1800’s.

4 stars

I received this book from Audiobookjukebox and Blackstone Audio for a fair and honest review.
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LibraryThing member Catherine_Dickson
Beautifully written, instantly compelling novel. Equal times maddening and heart-wrenching as you read about these young girls - the petite rats - that are forced to grow up much too fast. My heart ached for Antoinette as she made the all-too-familiar decision to stick by Emile, despite his
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behavior. And then, Marie's realization that the only way she'll succeed and advance is by "modeling," thus "Little Dancer Aged Fourteen." She struggled to overcome what she believes is her ultimate fate.

Once I finished, I immediately loaned the book out to a co-worker. She read it within two days and had the same response. This is a great book for anyone who loves historical fiction. The striking narrative and imagery stays with you long after it ends.
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LibraryThing member dragonflydee1
The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Book cover: Loved it-it evokes the core of the book.

Challenges read for: Ebook 2013, Historical Fiction

This is a wonderful fictional account of the life of Marie van Goethem, the model for Edgar Degas' Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. The story is told by both
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Marie and her sister, Antoinette. Late 1870's, poor and fatherless, with a mother dipping a little too far into the absinthe bottle, the girls struggle to overcome
so many debilitating obstacles. Marie throwing herself into dance at the Paris Opera and modeling for Degas and Antoinette finding work as an extra in L'Assommoir by Emile Zola. Antoinette however begins to take a downward spiral after meeting a young man by the name of Emile Abadie, one of three boys implicated in three murders of that era.

I loved how Ms. Buchanan wove the story of Marie, Antoinette and that infamous murder trial together. There is no historical reference that Antoinette and Abadie knew each other, but it made for a great story.

It is also a story of the powerful bond between sisters and family and the lengths one will go to survive.
I loved it!
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LibraryThing member Jammies
Although this is a fictional account of the van Goethem sisters, it's realistic while being engaging. While some of the supporting characters are rather flat, the main characters are fully realized and I came to care what happens to them. Without descending too far into adolescent angst, the author
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nevertheless manages to convey the pains and joys of growing up. Without delving too far into grossness, Ms. Buchanan manages to convey the dangers and fears of a life lived on the ragged edge of poverty. And without crossing the line into erotica, the author manages to convey the joy of sex with a loved one and the shame of sex for money.

After reading this book, I am torn between wanting to know more about the van Goethem sisters, and wanting not to know, so I can imagine them in a happy old age, chortling together over cups of tea and surrounded by reminders of lives well lived.

This book was sent to me for review
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LibraryThing member Kimaoverstreet
Marie and Antoinette are young, fatherless, and living in desperate poverty in 1880’s Paris. Their mother, a laundress, is addicted to absinthe and the two must rely on one another to take care of themselves and their younger sister, Charlotte. To earn money, Marie trains as a ballerina and poses
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for Edgar Degas. Antoinette works as an extra at the ballet and at the theater. Switching between the two as narrators, Buchanan evokes a wonderful sense of atmosphere and of the challenges the two face as they come of age, dealing with life’s harsh realities and questioning whether it is possible to rise above the circumstances of one’s birth.
This is my favorite kind of historical fiction-a book that captures what it is like to live in a particular time and place and, at the same time, drives you to keep Wikipedia open on your iPhone (Did that really happen? Did people really think that way?). Buchanan has done her research and weaves stories from the time together masterfully. I am not more than a casual admirer of ballet or impressionist artwork, though enjoyed learning a good deal about both. I would recommend this for fans of ballet, Degas, historical fiction coming of age stories, and for those who enjoy Tracy Chevalier’s books based on paintings.
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LibraryThing member aimelire
After having read all the positive reviews, I expected much more. I found that the story moved too slowly. I forced myself to finish the book hoping that it would get better. I was disappointed. I was very curious as to how the story would end for the sisters, so I skimmed the last 75 pages, just
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to have my questions answered.
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