I was very slow to get into this book and so I took a big risk. I made it the only book I chose to take with me on my vacation (which involved a 6 hour train ride). As you all probably know, this could be the best decision you make while travelling or the worst. Luckily for me, it worked out in my favour.
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 seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where she will be trained to enter the famous Ballet and meet Edgar Degas. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds employment—and the love of a dangerous young man—as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s Naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir. 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.”
Can we take a quick moment to discuss how utterly captivating this cover is? Stunning! There were times when I stopped reading and just stared at the detail and gorgeous shades of blue-grey. Everything about the cover is just perfect. Kudos to the designer.
Moving along; The Painted Girls had a slow beginning for me personally, but I wouldn’t make that a blanket statement for whomever else has read it or may want to do so. The trick is to be in the right mood and ready to sink your teeth into it for the long haul. My mind was too distracted every time I attempted to pick it up and so I would always put it down before allowing myself to get sucked into the story. My 6 hour train ride to Montreal eliminated that problem.
Interestingly enough, the Van Goethem sisters didn’t appeal to me at all. In fact, I wasn’t fond of any of the characters that were presented in the book. It was like being exposed to the seedy underbelly of a more modern ‘Tale of Two Cities’ section of society and I found that in itself to be rather enjoyable. I know, that sounds really strange. The fact that I enjoyed not liking the characters. Here’s the thing though, I rooted for the sisters the whole way through! I sympathized with their plight, I was frustrated on their behalf, and I mentally urged them to not step down a path that was riddled with explosive mines. I didn’t like the girls as individuals, nor did I like the people they associated with throughout the book, but that gave everything a fresh twist.
I’ve read historical fiction before and have always given it positive reviews, but I think The Painted Girls has been the tipping point for me wanting to actively seek out more. The juxtaposition of fact versus fiction electrified the words and I found myself hungry to know more. Cathy Marie Buchanan did a fantastic job of seamlessly weaving the two together and I can’t wait to read more of her works. Immerse yourself in The Painted Girls and when you finally emerge, I guarantee you’ll still feel a part of you is in the back alleys of Paris, waiting and watching for what will happen next.