Book Review: The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

9781443412346The Painted Girls

by Cathy Marie Buchanan
ISBN: 9781443412346
HarperCollins Canada, 2012

The slums of Paris in the 1800s held few opportunities for young girls. The nearby Paris opera house, however, offered a place well-suited to pre-pubescent girls made slender by lack of nutrition. The few francs the girls earned as the corps behind the headline dancers helped families to pay rent and stave off hunger. Edgar Degas used these girls as subjects for many of his sketches and paintings, and the small payments he made for their time allowed them an extra baguette or two. The Painted Girls tells the story of one of his subjects and her family.

Buchanan bases this fictional story on the real life of Marie van Goethem, the young dancer who posed for Degas’ sculpture Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen. Buchanan also weaves in a fictional version of a real-life crime drama of the time to enrich the story further. Marie and her older sister, Antoinette, narrate the story. The two perspectives give a fuller picture of life at the opera house and life in the city at large. Set in a time when people viewed going hungry as a greater offense than posing nude, the first-person perspectives help us to sympathize with harmful decisions made out of misplaced loyalty or desperation.

Buchanan researched the artwork of Degas, the Paris Opera House and the lives of the van Goethem family carefully. The resulting story entertains and informs.  If you know the work of Degas, this book will give you another perspective on the work. If you’re not familiar with his art, you will find yourself searching the internet for images. And you’ll be sure to look up New Caledonia on a map.


View the Degas artwork on Cathy Marie Buchanan’s website:


About Arlene Somerton Smith

Writer, laughing thinker, miner of inspirational insights, sports fan, and community volunteer

Posted on July 3, 2013, in Book Club, Book reviews, Books for the beach, Books I borrowed, Fiction, Historical Fiction and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thank you for the review. Glad you were inspired to check out the artwork.

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