You can marvel at her face, the strength of purpose in her ballerina stance, the thin legs, the pride of her upturned face and the arched discomfort from holding her hands behind her back. Marie Van Goethem was only 14, a “le petit rat,” of the Paris Opera and a working class child of truly humble origin when she posed for Impressionist Edgar Degas. Her story and that of her sisters in the late 1870’s is told by historical novelist Cathy Marie Buchannan in THE PAINTED GIRLS, a rare look at a poor family of Paris and the daughters who flee to the Paris Opera House for ballet training and perhaps as adornments to men who wait in the wings.
The author does a superb job of telling the story of empty cupboards and lonely hearts, broken promises and broken hearts, fear and joy, reaching for a life just beyond the touch of the young girls, redemption and forgiveness. She also paints a Paris of the 18778-1895 rich in spectacle; famous men, art and science (well, this is arguable), and still the poor endure as always with little change in their day-to-day lives.
Three sisters, an absinthe addicted Mother, the Paris Opera, a murder trial, a kind baker, a secret lover, and Degas all are part of the novel that will keep a reader turning pages to discover more about Marie and her true life story.