Sunday, November 10, 2013

Listen Up - The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Published: January 2013
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Cassandra Campbell (Narrator), Julia Whelan (Narrator), Danny Campbell (Narrator)

A gripping novel set in Belle Époque Paris and inspired by the real-life model for Degas’s Little Dancer Aged Fourteen and a notorious criminal trial of the era.

Paris. 1878. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventy francs a month, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work—and the love of a dangerous
young man—as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.

Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modelling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her
image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. Antoinette, meanwhile, descends lower and lower in society, and must make the choice between a life of honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde—that is, unless her love affair derails her completely.

Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of “civilized society.

For the month of October my book club decided to read The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan.  This was definitely not a book that I would have voluntarily have taken off the shelf - which is one of the big reasons I like book club - so I decided that since I've been so busy, I would try listening to it instead.  What a surprise I got.  This is an amazing book, that was incredibly well narrated.  Cassandra Campbell and Julia Whelan became Marie and Antoinette in my mind.  Their voices were different enough that there was never any doubt which sister was narrating and I became completely immersed in the story. It was completely fascinating to be 'inside' Antoinette's head as she falls for Emile, and to observe her from Marie's standpoint. 

Ms. Buchanan took two true but unconnected facts from history and has melded them into a moving and mesmerising story that will capture your heart.  Each character comes alive as they are read and I found it almost impossible not to become emotionally involved in the lives of the characters.  Compared to nowadays, there were some strange ideas running around in 1880's Paris and there is some real food for thought in the pages of this book.  The main characters are both in their teens - Marie 13 and Antoinette 17 - when the story starts  and I am sure that this would make a perfect novel for an ISU study.  There is just so much going in inside people's heads.  Perfect for discussion and essays.  We had some great discussions at book club. 

If you want to read something a little different and step out of your box, try The Painted Girls and let me know what you think.  Also if you read and enjoyed 'The Girl With The Pearl Earring I think you'll enjoy this one too.

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