Tag Archives: Cathy Marie Buchanan

Review: The Painted Girls

The Painted Girls

The Painted Girls
By Cathy Marie Buchanan
(Riverhead Hardcover, Hardcover, 9781594486241, January 2013, 368pp.)

The Short of It:

A heart wrenching story of love and survival in 19th century Paris.

The Rest of It:

The Painted Girls is a rich, detailed account of the van Goethem sisters and their struggle to earn a meager living after their father’s sudden death. Antoinette, Marie and Charlotte live with their mother in a shabby, one room flat. Always hungry, and always behind on the rent, they snatch up food scraps whenever they can and what little money they have, is spent on their mother’s absinthe. Literally wasting away, these girls are young and frail and vulnerable and after Antoinette gets kicked out of the ballet for being head strong and difficult, their only hope is for Marie and Charlotte to enter the Paris Opera themselves as petit rats. Petit rats are the lowest level of dancer you can be but they aspire to be part of the quadrille, which would earn them a few more francs for their pocket.

Little Dancer Aged 14
Little Dancer, Aged 14 (Degas)

As the oldest, Antoinette looks out for her sisters and has spent years giving up food so they can have a tiny bit more in their stomachs, but when she falls in love with a real loser, her priorities change. Suddenly, everything that is important to her revolves around Èmile. Marie is the first to notice the change in her sister, and as she struggles with the exhaustion of dancing and working long hours, she begins to resent her sister’s relationship. Things do not come easy for Marie. She is not as attractive as the other girls. Everything she gets, has to be fought for so when they lose her sister’s income, she decides to model for Edgar Degas. The result, is Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (above). But the money is not enough. Modeling turns into prostitution and then Antoinette ends up in real trouble.

What a story!

It’s so interesting to read a book based on fact. I am not a fan of historical fiction. I should rephrase that. It’s not a genre I reach for. However, when I do read it, I find that I like it quite a bit. Buchanan’s take on this story is a little dark with the prostitution/prison aspect of the story and all. I wasn’t expecting it to be so dark,  but it grabbed me and made me feel for these girls. Oh! And the parts about being hungry! They live on hardly anything at all and then they are expected to dance all day long. It’s heartbreaking! A tiny bit of stale bread is a treat to them. But the imagery of the dancing and what they do on stage gives the reader hope for a better life for these girls.

Structurally, I found the pacing of the story just right. I lingered over some parts and read a bit faster to get through the unpleasant parts, but all in all, it was a solid, beautifully rendered take on the van Goethem sisters and their connection to the Degas work you see above.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Library Thing.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Guest Post Q&A / Giveaway! The Day The Falls Stood Still

As many of you know, I really enjoyed The Day The Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan. You can check out my review here. As part of her blog tour, Cathy is stopping by Book Chatter and Other Stuff for a Q&A session. There are no spoilers, so if you enjoyed the book as much as I did, or if you have yet to read it, grab a cup of something yummy, sit back and enjoy!

BCAOS: Although the story takes place during the early 1900’s, the fascination with hydroelectricity and the erosion it causes, is still an issue today. Global warming and the need for green technology must have been a factor in your writing of the novel. Did you intend to make an environmental statement when writing the book?

CMB: Though The Day the Falls Stood Still is a novel, it explores the very real subject of progress and its environmental implications. At the book’s opening in 1915, true to history, the engineers of the Hydro Electric Power Commission are working on a scheme to put an end to the power and money running to waste at Niagara Falls. Tom Cole, the riverman central to the book’s plot, is deeply reverent of the Niagara River, and he is dismayed as more and more water is diverted away from the falls to fuel the powerhouses.

I don’t think most tourists know that they are likely seeing only about half of the flow of the river going over the falls. Sixty years ago, the Niagara Diversion Treaty set the minimum flow over the falls at about 50 percent of the natural flow of the river during daylight hours of tourist season and 25 at all other times. Today, the largest diversion tunnel ever-it’s about 6 stories high-is currently being dug under Niagara Falls, Ontario. When it becomes operational in 2013, more water than ever before will be diverted around the falls. In writing The Day the Falls Stood Still, I did hope to increase awareness about the trade offs we make even for “clean” energy.

BCAOS: Throughout the novel, we are reminded of the day that the falls stood still. This is the day where the falls actually stopped flowing and the riverbed went dry. This is also the day that Fergus Cole is introduced to us and his rescue accounts are peppered throughout the novel. I know that William Red Hill was the inspiration for the character of Tom Cole, but when you created Tom’s character, did you know up front that there would be a Fergus Cole, Tom’s grandfather?

CMB: When I first started writing, I knew the book would be set in William “Red” Hill’s lifetime, but there were several bits of history I wanted to include in the book that predated him-the day the falls stood still, the rescue using Ellet’s basket, the collapse of Table Rock. I knew I needed an earlier riverman to include these stories, and it made sense that he would be an ancestor of Tom Cole.

BCAOS: Bess is first and foremost a Loretto girl. Many times in the novel we are reminded of her years there. I took comfort, as did Bess, in the routine that Loretto provided. What experience have you had with educational institutions such as Loretto? Did you attend a boarding school while you were growing up?

CMB: I attended the local public schools in Niagara Falls while I was growing up. My appreciation of tradition and routine likely grew out of my heavy involvement with ballet during my teenage years. I attended class four nights a week, and loved the practice of standing at the barre, night after night, and making my way through the same set of exercises so many other dancers had.

BCAOS: I was fascinated with the sections describing Bess and her sewing. I am not a seamstress and yet I found these bits quite useful as a way of defining class and position within the community. What inspired you to give Bess that profession? Do you sew?

CMB: The old adage “write what you know” came into play in making Bess a dressmaker. I sewed my own wedding gown, and also those of my three sisters. For my own big day, I decided to copy a wedding gown from a 1920’s photograph. The bodice of that aged gown was heavily beaded, and just as I had, Bess spends long hours beading a 1920’s era gown.

BCAOS: I was often touched by the interaction of lack thereof of Tom Cole and his son Jesse as he teaches Jesse about the falls. Being born and bred in Niagara Falls, Ontario, what is your fondest childhood memory?

CMB: I loved having company as a child, particularly my cousins. It meant we’d make the trek to the falls and spend a day riding the Maid of the Mist, walking through Queen Victoria Park, and gazing out over the Niagara Gorge. If there was time, we would hike into Niagara glen, a spot that plenty of locals think rivals the falls in beauty.

BCAOS: What did you find most challenging about writing this book?

CMB: Niagara Falls lore is endless-the Maid of the Mist and her canoe, Sir Isaac Brock and the War of 1812, Blondin and his tightrope, Annie Taylor and her barrel, Red Hill and his daring rescues, Sir Adam Beck and hydroelectricity, Roger Woodward and the miracle at Niagara… With so many intriguing stories, the difficulty lay in deciding what to include in The Day the Falls Stood Still.

BCAOS: The Day the Falls Stood Still was picked as a Barnes and Noble Recommends book, which is very exciting! I know that you are busy promoting the book, but what are you working on next?

CMB: I’m working on a novel set in and around the Paris Opera in the 1880’s.

Cathy, thanks so much for stopping by!

If you’d like to read more about Cathy Marie Buchanan, click here to visit her website.

Check out the rest of Cathy’s tour stops here.

To purchase the book, please visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s or an independent bookseller of your choice!


UPDATE! Giveaway has ended! Thanks for entering. Winner to be posted on 9/21.

Hyperion has provided me with a gorgeous hardback copy of The Day the Falls Stood Still to giveaway to one lucky reader.

This giveaway is open to the U.S. and Canada. There are THREE ways to enter. Please follow the instructions carefully because I want every entry to count!

1. Post a comment for ONE entry. Make sure that I have a way to contact you.

2. For another entry, Tweet about this giveaway and be sure to include @TiBookChatter so I can track it. After you Tweet, post a separate comment here telling me you did so.

3. Follow this blog for another entry and let me know. If you already follow, post a separate comment telling me so, and that will count too!

This giveaway will run until Friday, September 18, 2009 at 10pm (PDT). The winner will be selected randomly and announced on Monday, September 21, 2009. I will contact the winner for his/her mailing address so be sure to include a way for me to contact you.

Good luck!!!