The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

paintedgirlsI felt like everyone had read The Painted Girls but me. And that is part of the reason why I was resisting it. Sometimes books just get to be too popular and they become more of a fad than something worthy of reading. This is particularly true of so-called ‘women’s fiction’, a term I loathe. I didn’t read Eat, Pray Love or The Secret Daughter for that exact reason. Too much hype, not enough substance.

Thankfully, The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan does not fall into that category. It really is worthy of all the hype it is getting. I should have known it would be. Buchanan’s previous book, The Day the Falls Stood Still was good. The Painted Girls, however, surpasses it by miles. It is a fully developed and very mature novel – much more than what I’d expect from some one’s sophomore attempt. The story is complex and nuanced and the writing is effortless. I enjoyed it far more than I expected and it contributed to a number of late nights because I couldn’t put it down.

The story is set in the late 19th century Paris. Buchanan weaves together two seemingly unrelated sets of historical facts to create a nuanced and exciting story. The first thread revolves around the Paris opera and the Van Goethem girls who are ballerinas there. The eldest gets sucked into a like of ill-repute. The middle child becomes a favorite of the ballet, models for Degas and gains an admirer who has the potential to life her out of a life of penury. Interwoven with their story is a tale of murder and ensuing trial. Together, the two threads paint an interesting picture of late 19th century life in Paris.

Who would like this book? The Painted Girls has been praised by just about every new outlet there is, so it is not unreasonable to suggest that most people would enjoy this novel. I don’t normally read historical fiction, but I found this to be extremely well researched. Buchanan’s website is well worth checking out as she has included images of the art she references in the book. This book is also sure to be a big hit with book clubs. Buchanan is very good at book club outreach and is willing to attend electronically through Skype.


  1. Somehow I’ve missed the hype on this one and this is the first I’ve heard of it, but I’ve really liked dual narratives and historical fiction lately – plus not every book gets the praise “worthy of the hype”. Definitely going on my TBR list 🙂

  2. As your already know when I read it earlier, I liked it, but I didn’t think it met up with the hype. Although it wasn’t bad, and I’ll read The Day the Falls Stood Still. You might enjoy The Secret Garden, it did have a lot of substance to it. I found that there was more to it than meets the eye. But I agree with you on the reading fad thing, some books seeme to have this huge fad around them, they get far more promotion, even before they’re published and everyone seems to have read them, yet lot of them aren’t good reads. Went off topic a bit here, glad to see your thoughts on the book, and you enjoyed it.

    • I’ve also read the Secret Garden, but I liked Painted Girls better. I think I’ve had enough English manor stories for now.
      The problem with media today is that they over-hype somethings making them into a fad. Sometimes they deserve the hype and at other times I’m left wondering what the deal was.

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