‘Painted Girls’ reveals lives of ballerinas

Posted Feb. 26, 2013

“The Painted Girls”
By Cathy Marie Buchanan


Next time you are lucky enough to find yourself facing the impressionist ballerinas of Edgar Degas’, you will want to have read “The Painted Girls.” The dancers will never look the same. Combining the arts of painting, dance, survival and literature, Cathy Marie Buchanan succeeds in creating a masterpiece herself.

the painted girlsWithout a doubt, this is a novel written by the creativity and imagination of a girl who spent hours in a ballet studio herself, fantasizing about devoted impressionistic dancers, just like herself and immortalized by Degas. Buchanan describes her childhood memories in her website, “sometimes we would have a moment’s rest and I would roll stiffness from my shoulders, gazing at one of the Edgar Degas prints tacked to the walls.”

A former ballerina dancer herself, Buchanan divulges details of a dancer’s hardships and develops Marie as the main character, even though her older sister, Antoinette is also featured from a first person perspective, alternating the sisters’ voice every other chapter.

The loose brushstrokes and open hardwood floors are the setting for petit ballerina dancers in the Belle Époque set in Paris. This historical fiction is a story in 1888 of survival in the golden time period from a perspective uncommon to its time; poverty. Two sisters, Marie and Antoinette, live in a poverty of survival, struggling to keep their stomachs free from hunger, without a father, a younger sister, and a mother drowning her sorrows in alcohol.

Marie van Goethem, is a young ballerina who is trying her hardest to make others forget her origins and lackluster face through her fourttes en tournant and pirouettes. She has to reveal her hidden talent of dance to thrive and prove others wrong. The same might well be said of Buchanan’s, author of the debut novel. Buchanan, who studied biochemistry and worked in finance, has seized attention for the second time after her success “The Day the Falls Stood Still.”  Her two novels are now New York Times bestsellers.

It can also be said that Buchanan alternates the point of view between two members of the same family struggling to preserve their morality in spite of poverty, one who is fighting to live in a deserved fame, and one who has the fortitude to keep the family afloat with the temptation of prostitution at every turn.

Buchanan shares her inspiration through her website, where readers can accompany the novel with the actual research from her travels to France and the artworks mentioned in the novel, convincing the readers even more by the facts she woven together to create her novel.

On the website, readers can see one of the main focuses of the novel, the Sculpture of a Fourteen-year-old Girl. This is a central part to the novel because this great artist instead of the fairer classmates selected Marie, with her unfair features. She is a sweet girl living in poverty that models nude for this artist. Readers know of Marie’s innocence, but everyone who dares to see from the outside, in that time period, disguise.

Buchanan writes in her inspiration tab of her website. “When Degas unveiled Little Dancer Aged Fourteen in 1881, it was to reveal something very curious—a highly realistic wax sculpture of a ballet girl. At once the public linked her with a life of corruption and young girls for sale. She was called a “flower of precocious depravity.” Her face, they said, was ‘imprinted with the detestable promise of every vice.’ “ This statement accompanies the image of the statuette in its current setting.

This detailed work is so well pieced together and details add up so well, the reader forgets the fiction part of this historical fiction. If the novel was written in a third person perspective, and readers visited the research online, it would be easy to confuse it as a biography. Any lover of the arts is morally obliged to read this novel.

  • Author: Cathy Marie Buchanan
  • Novel: The Painted Girls
  • Published: Riverhead hardcover; first edition (Jan. 10, 2013)
  • Page Length: 368 pages
  • Rating: A+
  • Availability:  Hardcover, audio book, Kindle
  • Price: From $18 – $22