The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

October 2018

This book is making the rounds in my ballet class, and I thought it might do me good to a take a break from reading incessantly about Nazis in order to read about 19th-century ballet dancers instead. The story is set in Paris in the 1880s and mainly revolves around the relationship between two sisters, one of whom is an aspiring actress and the other an aspiring ballerina, both of whom live in squalor with their younger sister and their absinthe-addicted mother. It’s based on the true story of the girl who posed for Degas’ sculpture of the “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen”. The book paints a gritty portrait of the city and its demimonde; for the most part, dancing at the Paris Opera was anything but glamorous, and the life a woman living in poverty was grim indeed. Also, absinthe was bad. And the guillotine wasn’t great either. Despite the ballet theme, it’s not the kind of book I probably would have sought out on my own - but it’s written well and it was a perfectly distracting read while being stuck in an airport for hours waiting for a delayed flight.

Further reading…