Friday, January 10, 2014

The Painted Girls

Title: The Painted Girls:  A Novel
Author:  Cathy Marie Buchanan
Publication Information:  Riverhead Books. 2013. 368 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the GoodReads First Reads program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book arrived as an autographed hardcover edition! Thank you GoodReads!

Favorite Quote:  "It is about being born downtrodden and staying that way. Hard work makes no difference ... My lot, the lots of those around me, were cast the moment we were born into the gutter to parents who never managed to step outside the gutter themselves.”

The Painted Girls is a book that can be read on many different levels.

At the highest level, it is a picture of a time and place in history. It is the late 1800s in Paris - the time of the Paris Opera, of Emile Zola, and Edgar Degas. The book takes literary liberties, combining certain actual events and people to bring them together in one story.

At another level, this book is a story of two young women taking different routes but both trying to find a way out of poverty to a better life. In this, it is the story of Antoinette and Marie as individuals trying to climb out of their life of abject poverty. Antoinette finds a young man and work in the theater but descends further into the "downtrodden." Marie finds some success at the Paris Opera and catches the eye of artist Edgar Degas and becomes immortalized as the Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. Yet, how successful is either one of them at attaining what they dream about.

At another level, The Painted Girls is the story of family - sisters in particular. Antoinette is the oldest of the three and de facto mother and protector to her younger sisters. Marie is the middle sister, who fears the path her sister has chosen, partially because she fears what would become of her if Antionette leaves. On the periphery is Charlotte, the youngest of the three.

The book alternates between Antoinette's and Marie's point of view. Occasionally, there are excerpts from the newspapers of the time with snapshots of history as they pertain to the story. What is odd is that the reader does not see Charlotte's point of view. If the story is the of these sisters, then I feel that is missing from the book.

The book is dark and sad, but the story is vividly depicted. Some parts of the story are a little slow, but I persevered through them. The ending brings all the stories together and does a little show and tell about what happens to each of the sisters.

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