The Painted Girls
Cathy Marie Buchanan
2013, Riverhead Books
Ballet, artists, personal anguish and a tale of enduring love between sisters.
The Painted Girls is a tale about young girls coming of age in the harsh world of late nineteenth century Paris. Follow three sisters as they struggle to trust their own instincts for survival both as individuals and as sisters. The story is told from the point of view of the two older sisters, Marie and Antoinette. Working together, the girls manage to eke out an existence that keeps them all alive. Marie is the “ugly” sister who surprises all by advancing on the stage to a higher level than that achieved by the more vocal Antoinette. Both girls have choices to make that will forever change their lives. Marie models for the famous artist, Edgar Degas, as a way to make extra money. While she does not develop a relationship with Degas outside of modeling, his drawings and cast statuette of her are part of the package that ensure his fame and fortune. Antoinette takes bit parts at the ballet and theater for extra money. Unfortunately, Antoinette develops unhealthy relationships which lead to her downfall and several months in a woman’s jail. The primary relationship in the book is that between the sisters. As they work hard to survive, they find that they are often torn apart by their personal choices. The author takes us through many disastrous decisions as both girls move from young protected girls in a loving family to providers who must manage their time as well as personal decisions. The chapters alternate between the point of view of Marie and Antoinette, which allows the reader to get a deeper glimpse of each character as they work to not only survive but to also maintain the sisterly relationship that sustains them above all else.
Readers will enjoy how Buchanan weaves historical events and characters into this compelling tale about the importance of retaining the sister relationship.