Summer of Canadian Reading 2019
A #1 National Bestseller and a New York Times Bestseller
A gripping novel inspired by the real-life model for Edgar Degas’s sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen
Paris, 1878. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters’ lives are upended. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opera, where for a scant wage she is trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work—and the love of a dangerous man—as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s masterpiece L’Assommoir.
Marie is soon modelling in the studio of Edgar Degas, who will immortalize her image forever. Antoinette, meanwhile, must make the choice between a life of honest labour and the more profitable avenues open to a willing young woman—that is, unless her perilous love derails her completely.
The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of civilized society.
“In this compelling tale, we meet fictionalised Marie Van Goethem (one of the young dancers who posed for Degas) and her sister, whose journeys out of the Paris slums evoke the light and dark of the Belle Époque.”
“Buchanan does a masterful job of interweaving historical figures into her plot, but it is the moving yet unsentimental portrait of family love, of two sisters struggling to survive with dignity, that makes this a must-read.”
“We know some, but not all, details of Marie’s life. To provide a full story, those details have been vividly and believably embroidered by Toronto author Cathy Marie Buchanan in a gritty and compelling new novel titled The Painted Girls.”
“Beautiful and haunting. From the first page, I was swept up and enchanted.”
“A dark valentine to Belle Époque Paris.”
“In The Painted Girls, a carefully researched, deeply imagined historical novel . . . the Belle Époque comes to vibrant, often aching life.”
“You will be swept away by The Painted Girls. Wonderfully imagined and masterfully rendered . . . [it] will change the way you see the world of ballet, art and the lives it portrays.”
“[Buchanan] treats her girls with far greater care than do their contemporaries, seeing worth in them despite their misjudgments and calamities.”
“There’s no doubting or denying that Buchanan is a writer, born and made-a masterful narrator who can start with historical people and places and overlay them with powerful stories from her imagination.”
“Historical fiction at its finest. . . . Buchanan also explores the uneasy relationship between artist and muse with both compassion and soul-searing honesty.”
“The struggle of three sisters in 19th-century Paris blossoms into the rich history of Marie van Goethem, model for Edgar Degas’s controversial statue, Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen . . . Buchanan captures their story in this engrossing depiction of belle époque Paris.”
“A realistically robust portrait of working-class life in late nineteenth-century Paris. Guaranteed to appeal to fans of Tracy Chevalier, Susan Vreeland, and Melanie Benjamin.”
“Buchanan’s prose is as haunting as it is elegant.”
“Based on historical figures and incidents, this novel of family, romance, degradation, and fulfillment delivers great atmosphere and fully-realized characters.”
The reader is completely absorbed in the struggle of Marie to rise above her circumstances. . . . [A] convincing, heartfelt story.
“Sisters, dance, art, ambition, and intrigue in late 1800s Paris. The Painted Girls offers the best of historical fiction: compelling characters brought backstage at l’Opera and front and center in Degas’ studio. This one has “book club favorite” written all over it.”
You will be swept away by The Painted Girls. Wonderfully imagined and masterfully rendered . . . [it] will change the way you see the world of ballet, art and the lives it portrays.
History, coming of age and the art of Degas’s beloved dancers are woven together in this enchanting novel. Utterly captivating.
“Fascinating. . . . Meticulously researched.”
“Buchanan paints the girls who spring from the page as vibrantly as a dancer’s leap across a stage. . . . A captivating story of fate, tarnished ambition and the ultimate triumph of sister-love.”
“Part mystery, part love story, The Painted Girls breathes heart and soul into a fascinating era of the City of Lights. One can’t help but be drawn in by this compelling and lyrical tale of sister love and rivalry.”
“History, coming of age and the art of Degas’s beloved dancers are woven together in this enchanting novel. Utterly captivating.”
Buchanan weaves real and fictional characters and their stories to create a rich stew of drunkards, deceivers and ne’er-do-wells, seasoned by the occasional soft-hearted soul, who change the lives of the sisters.
“Two impoverished sisters in Belle Époque Paris enter the world of the ballet (Degas) and theater (Zola) but also face temptations that can lure young women in the demimonde.”
“Belle époque Paris springs to life under the sure hand of Cathy Marie Buchanan. . . . In this book I found a lovely braiding of the real and invented, a seductive world I did not want to leave.”
“Richly imagined. . . . Amid the glamour of tutus and art emerges a surprisingly gritty story of survival in the gutters of Belle Époque Paris.”
“Buchanan achieves all that historical fiction asks for in The Painted Girls.”
Sketched in rich detail and teeming with suspense. The Painted Girls is hard to put down.
“Buchanan writes masterfully about the hard life of two sisters in 19th-century Paris. . . . A wonderful tale, beautifully told.”
“As two sisters’ paths converge and spiral out of control, Buchanan powerfully . . . depicts their efforts to navigate the slippery ethical terrain facing them in an era when a young woman’s most lucrative asset was her body.”