I love France #45: Book review: The Painted Girls


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The Painted Girls


Cathy Marie BUCHANAN

Narrated by Cassandra Campbell, Julia Whelan, Danny Cambell

12:15 hours

Painted Girls Painted Girls audio

Audiobook published by Blackstone Audio in January 2013
Audiobook received via Audiobook Jukebox

This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

     Books on France    hf-reading-challenge-2013

New Authors 2013 2013 Audio Book Challenge


Rating system

Wow, I can finally have nice fireworks around my Eiffel Tower for this amazing book!

The quality of the writing is excellent – I just read an interview of the author where she mentions her appreciation of Barbara Kingsolver’s writing: no wonder, both have good good writing, not one word too much, very well chosen vocabulary and expressions.

Not surprisingly seeing the topic and milieu of the book, it felt actually like reading a modern Zola! The Painted Girls is so good at describing the social milieu of these young women, their struggles to pay the monthly rent, to bring food on the table, to relate to their heavily drinking mother; but also the beauty and hopes brought to them by the world of the arts, especially dancing at the Opéra de Paris and playing in l’Assommoir, precisely by Zola.

What else did I like so much about this book?

  • the way the author had the idea of connecting our young heroines with 2 famous robbers and murderers of the time (Emile Abadie and Michel Knobloch); we don’t know for sure that they knew each other, but as they all figure in Degas’s paintings, and were living in the same area of Paris, the idea is definitely not farfetched
  • the idea of retracing the biography of Marie van Goethem, model for a very famous statuette by Degas and many of  his paintings
  • the inclusion of newspapers articles of the time, on the 2 criminals, on painting exhibitions, and on views of the time on physiognomy (Figaro newspaper)
  • the evolution of each character, and the mutual love of the sisters; and I am not giving to reveal anything here, but things do not turn out as they seem they would for each of the 3 girls
  • all the descriptions of the ambiance and competition in the world of dance. The author’s own experience is a great enrichment here
  • the integration of ideas of physiognomy, both for the young dancer Marie and the 2 murderers
  • the ending

We have here a historical novel as I really like them, so rich in the background study of the time: conditions of work and daily life for one milieu; all beautifully integrated in a story that flows and carries you back then, in the Paris of the end of the 19th century, with its artists and its miseries. No, this was not really a Belle Époque for everyone; but if you love Zola, Paris and that particular period, this is definitely the nicest book to read! Highly highly recommended.


My first reaction, with the 1st line of the book, was: oh no!! As the narrator said right away “mon- ssieurr leblank”. Alas, Monsieur is pronounced [meussieu], no sound [on], as strange as that may be, and definitely no final r.  And Leblanc is pronounced [leublan], no fincal c pronounced, please.
Later, when the male narrator read the passages of le Figaro, I actually had to look at a printed copy if these were really excerpts from “LE Figaro”, as the narrator keeps saying [la] instead of [leu].
I again and again repeat (do publishers who graciously send me these audiobooks and their narrators ever read my reviews??) that this is absolutely unacceptable to have PROFESSIONAL narrators do that type of mistakes. Seriously, just even use a 101 video on YouTube on French pronunciation, and you would know how to pronounce LE! It is free and lasts only a couple of minutes.
Fortunately the narrator Cassandra Campbell was much better in her pronunciation of French words. Which incidentally showed me that narrators recorded their voices separately and did not listen to the way the other ones were saying words. A team work would have been very beneficial here.
But apart from that, they really all do a fantastic job in their tone of voice, in expressing the despair and hopes of the girls; the despising remarks of  those who boss over them, one way or another; I also liked the dreamy voice used for Degas.


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.” [Goodreads]

Be sure to visit the author’s website, for extra fantastic material:

  • Degas’s artworks mentioned in the novel
  • Where you can actually see the famous statuette of  Little Dancer Aged Fourteen today
  • The author’s research trip to Paris
  • Her inspiration behind this book
  • A Q&A with the author
  • A Reading Guide


Cathy Marie Buchanan

CATHY MARIE BUCHANAN is the author of The Painted Girls, a novel set in belle époque Paris and inspired by the real-life model for Degas’s Little Dancer Aged 14 (forthcoming January 2013).
Her debut novel, The Day the Falls Stood Still, was a New York Times bestseller, a Barnes & Noble Recommends selection, a Barnes & Noble Best of 2009 book, an American Booksellers Association IndieNext pick and a Canada Reads Top 40 Essential Canadian Novels of the Decade.
Her stories have appeared in many of Canada’s most respected literary journals, and she has received awards from both the Toronto Arts Council and the Ontario Arts Council.
She holds a BSc (Honours Biochemistry) and an MBA from Western University. Born and raised in Niagara Falls, Ontario, she now resides in Toronto.


Bonjour Paris has a great interview of the author!
Under My Apple Tree
Lit And Life
Devourer of Books




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17 thoughts on “I love France #45: Book review: The Painted Girls

  1. Pingback: 2013 – Books on France challenge – My list | Words And Peace

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  3. Pingback: New Authors Reading Challenge 2013 | Words And Peace

  4. Pingback: 2013 Audio book challenge | Words And Peace

  5. What a fine review! Everything I have read about this author, from my hometown Toronto, is so positive. This book has been resting at the top of my TBR pile and I’m dying to get to it. Thanks for this!


  6. And in a Goodreads message (3/6/2013), the author Cathy Marie Buchanan said:
    “I just saw your review on twitter, read it, commented and tweeted. Thank you. It’s gorgeous, and I am humbled by the praise. I gathered that you were French with your comments about pronunciation. (I’m glad you can’t hear me bastardise the language. My husband is from the French part of Canada and, although a Anglo, was educated in French. He can barely stand to hear me attempt French and for some reason his corrections don’t stick.)

    Thank you for reading and helping spread the word. Very much appreciated.

    All best,

    And I add: it is wonderful to be able to interact with authors!


  7. I liked this one too. I thought the accents in the audio were a little ‘off’ but since I don’t speak French I wasn’t sure. I always enjoy Cassandra Campbell’s narration so it didn’t bother me that much. I can understand why you would find it annoying. But the story was great!


    • Oh well, if I now talk about accents… Actually only natives would have the exact accent, this is something you can’t really acquire by learning, unless you started learning the language very young, 5 max. Still, this is the best book I have read/listened to this year so far (out of 22)


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