2014: 35. The Painted Girls


"Monsieue LeBlanc leans against the doorframe, his arms folded over a belly grown round on pork crackling."

The Painted Girls, Cathy Marie Buchanan

My mom leant me this book - and she bought it at the airport- and I put off forever reading it.  And once I did read it, it took me forever to get into it - I kept picking it up and putting it down.  So it surprises me to say that I recommend it - but I thought the end was great, even if it took me a while to get there.

It's a story of sisters - living in Paris in 1878, father dead, mother an alcoholic, Antoinette does all she can to keep Marie and Charlotte afloat - including getting them auditions to be petits rats - small dancers at the Paris Opera.  Marie is trying to reconcile her desire for something more with the compromises she has to make to make it as a dancer; Antoinette falls for a boy who turns out to be a big problem.  The book alters between their two perspectives and, despite all the trapping of other plots (and we have, being a ballerina, being super poor in in 1878 Paris, modelling for Edgar Degas, a murder, and prostitution all floating around there) its really about sisterly love, and the relationship about those two girls.  And so, while it was a bit of a struggle to wade through all that terrible poverty and grim lives and bad choices, it was worth it for Marie and Antoinette - two real, distinct voices, and their relationship.  Plus, they are based on real characters - Marie was the girl who posed for Degas' famous sculpture The Little Dancer of 14 Years.

My mom really likes books about "girls in history making their way through the world" - even better if its somewhere sort of exotic.  That's not my very favorite genre (you know, I like let's solve this family's secret mystery), but once I got into it, I very much enjoyed Marie and Antoinette's company.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017