The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan – Book Review

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Published by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin

The death of Mr. van Goethem creates a crisis for his three daughters. The are not orphaned, they still have their mother, but with her absinthe drinking they basically just have her in name only. Antoinette had hoped to keep her sisters Marie and Charlotte out of work and allow them their childhood, but it is no longer possible, so instead she helps her sisters find positions as petit rats in the ballet of the Paris Opera, where they can earn seventeen francs a week to train. Antoinette was kicked out of the ballet some time before, but manages to find a part in the stage adaptation of Zola’s L’Assommoir. Things seem to be looking up for the van Goethems with everyone working and Marie even modeling for Edgar Degas – she is the inspiration for his statuette Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen – but their luck can’t last. Antoinette’s new beau, Emile Abadie, is driving a wedge between her and Marie, who is certain that he is bad news.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about The Painted Girls is that, while Degas himself is not a particularly major player in the book, all of the characters are based on the real people behind his art work. Marie van Goethem was really the inspiration for Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen and even Emile Abadie was the subject of some of Degas’s art, although to say what might constitute a spoiler. Buchanan’s van Goethem family is so vivid that I assumed she had created them from whole cloth, and I am impressed that her story is built largely on the verifiable facts of the van Goethems’s lives.

If you’re looking for a book to completely immerse you in late-19th century Paris, The Painted Girls is for you. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Apollo’s Angels by Jennifer Homans – Audiobook Review

Apollo’s Angels by Jennifer Homans, narrated by Kirsten Potter
Published in print by Random House, published in audio by Tantor Media

Synopsis:

In Apollo’s Angels, Jennifer Homans tells the story of 400 years of ballet’s history, a history which, until now, has  been unwritten.

Thoughts on the story:

Ballet is ballet is ballet. Or so I thought, before reading Apollo’s Angels. I had no idea that there were national differences even today, or that political movements such as the French and Russian Revolutions were so expressed through the art of ballet. Weighing in at almost 700 pages in print and close to 24 hours in audio, Apollo’s Angels is certainly a commitment, but it is a pleasant one. Homan succeeds in writing a book which is informative about the history of ballet and the way that ballet serves as a mirror of social and political history, while at the same time is not overly technical. There were certainly passages here and there that lost me briefly talking about specific steps, but even though I have not taken ballet since I was five years old, I was never lost for long, and was engaged enough to stick through those technical sections to return to the history.

The one place Homan did lose me was at the very end, in which she makes an argument for the disappearance of ballet in the near future which does not seem to be hinted at or backed up in any way by the 600 odd pages that precede it. Still, though, it was a very short passage in comparison with the rest of the book, and was not enough to permanently leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Kirsten Potter did an absolutely lovely job narrating Apollo’s Angels, the casting was really just perfect for the book. For my full thoughts on the audio, please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

Overall:

I was more interested in Apollo’s Angels for the social and cultural history than for the ballet itself, but ballet was a fascinating way to impart this history. I think this would work well in print or audio, although I don’t think I’d have done as well with it in print, as I would likely have gotten bogged down in the technicalities of dance. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Audiofile Magazine.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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