I have just finished reading The Painted Girls — a great new work of historical fiction. Set in Belle Époque Paris, The Painted Girls tells the story of the Van Goethem sisters, students (les petits rats) at the Paris Opéra Ballet School. The middle sister, Marie, was the real-life model for Edgar Degas’ rather revolutionary sculpture, Little Dancer Aged 14. Degas, the Opéra, known criminals of the day and even Émile Zola are all characters in Buchanan’s rich, captivating novel. Her juxtaposition of the beauty of the ballet, the Paris Opéra and the entire era with the ugliness and despair of the daily lives of the Van Goethem sisters and the world from which they come and seemingly cannot escape is immensely powerful. Most profound though is the deep and quite exquisite relationship between these sisters.
The Painted Girls (Penguin Group, 2013)