The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Historical fiction set in 19th-century Paris, focusing on ballet? Probably going to go over well in this season of the Les Mis movie and many, many Nutcracker performances.
Most ballet fans know the Degas ballerina statue - this is a fictionalized version of Marie's life, as a poor (very poor) teen in Paris, as a ballet student, a model and more. She lives with her absinthe addicted mother (father is dead) and two sisters; Antoinette has been let go from the Opera ballet but manages to get Marie and Charlotte into classes. They are among the least well-dressed in the class, with clothing bought at pawn shops, but they are talented and hard-working. Soon Marie is in a higher class and has caught the eye of Degas, who asks her to model.
Meanwhile, Antoinette finds work as an actress in a production of a Zola play - a scandalous play, at that - and is being wooed by a cast member. Her infatuation with Emile leads her into a life of taverns, sex and friendship with a cocette and other somewhat unsavory types. She tries to take care of her sisters, but ultimately her attachment to Emile creates a major problem for everyone.
Like Marie and Antoinette, Emile is a real person, the subject of a scandalous murder trial (or two); the intertwining of his story with that of the sisters is the fiction part.
This is well-written, with many historical details about the seedier side of life in the late 1800s. Interspersed with two stories (that of Marie and Antoinette) are real newsclippings - the ones reviewing La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans are particularly interesting, as is Marie's reaction to them.
ARC provided by publisher.
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