Even after art history classes in college, Edgar Degas is one of the handful of famous artists that I can easily recognize his work. Let's be honest, it's not that difficult since he regularly painted the ballerinas from the Paris Opera.
Inspired by the art of Edgar Degas, Cathy Marie Buchanan recreates the life of Marie van Goethem, Degas's model for much of his artwork and his famous statue of a young ballerina in her new novel The Painted Girls.
Paris, France in 1878 is not all idyllic romance. Marie and her sisters Antoinette and Charlotte have recently lost their father and must now do their best to support their impoverished family. The younger girls begin their study of ballet hoping to become petits rats at the Paris Opera. Antoinette, who has already been dismissed from the Quadrille, gets works as a walk-on actress in the famous play L'Assommoir by Emile Zola. While Marie finds success at ballet and as a model for Degas, Antoinette falls in love with another amateur actor in the play--Emile Abadie.
Antoinette and Marie are interesting, unique literary characters that are fully alive in The Painted Girls. Not always wise and very naive, the girls have a limited number of choices based on their unfortunate circumstances. However, it's empowering to watch them grow and finally take some control of their own lives.
Tying together the pieces from history--the art of Degas, the literature of Zola, and the string of murders in the city, Buchanan creates her own fascinating study of poverty, crime, and the possibility of goodness and honesty in the depths of despair and filth. This novel deals with the harsh realities for poor young women. It is occasionally raw and brutally honest but also hopeful and lovely. This is historical fiction at its best.
**I received a complimentary copy of The Painted Girls in exchange for my honest review. No additional compensation has been received.**