I 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.