1878 Paris. 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 seventeen francs a week, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.
Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modeling in the studio of
Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.
There she meets a wealthy male patron of the ballet, but might the
assistance he offers come with strings attached? Meanwhile Antoinette,
derailed by her love for the dangerous Émile Abadie, must choose between
honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of
the Parisian demimonde. 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.” In the end, each will come to
realize that her salvation, if not survival, lies with the other.
My Thoughts: Beautifully written and heartfelt, The Painted Girls pulls back the curtain of the Paris Opera and allows us to peer into the lives of the girls who one day hope to grace its stage. As the novel will reveal, all is not the glitz and glamour one would expect. Told in the alternating narratives of the Van Goethem sisters-Marie and Antoinette-a different vision of the ballet world magically comes to life. Antoinette, Marie, and younger sister Charlotte live in a rundown apartment in Monmartre, left wondering daily where their next meal will come from or if they will still have a roof over their heads in the coming weeks. Resourceful Antoinette recognizes the dire situation they are in thanks to their recently deceased father and a mother whose wages go to her next bottle of absinthe. Antoinette knows that their one hope of scraping by lies in Marie and Charlotte being accepted at the Paris Opera to train as ballerinas. Things begin looking up when both girls start their training but when Antoinette is led astray by Emile Abadie, a fellow actor in a play whose true nature is evident to everyone but Antoinette, her relationship with Marie becomes increasingly strained. Without the guidance of her older sister Marie is left to navigate the more unsavory aspects of life at the Opera on her own. As both their lives take unexpected turns it remains to be seen whether their sisterly bond will survive.
As you may have already guessed I really enjoyed this novel! I was totally swept into the world of 1880's Paris and was completely captivated by the stories of Marie and Antoinette. Each has a distinct voice as they tell their respective stories and I liked both of them equally. Marie's fight to overcome her insecurities even as she is chosen to model for painter Edgar Degas touched me and Antoinette's impulsive actions left me wondering just how far she would go and how much she would sacrifice for love. Even though both face some serious trials in the novel, it is the vein of sisterly love throughout that really won me over. A brutal series of crimes followed by a sensational trial are thrown in to keep the action going. This book has been receiving quite a bit of attention as of late and deservedly so. I am so glad I picked this novel to start off 2013 with. Lovers of historical fiction-I highly encourage you to add this one to your reading list!
I received this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: January 10th