Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanon, reviewed by Phyllis Humby

Reading about Parisian ballerinas was never on my list of things to do. That changed when the author of one of my favourite books The Day the Falls Stood Still, decided to make that the subject of her second novel.

With the release of The Painted Girls, Cathy Marie Buchanan has become the sweetheart of the literary world. She’s been lauded in the press and by every prominent magazine. Book clubs around the world are gushing about her latest bestseller.

Word has it that she’s been spotted doing the happy dance on the streets of New York City and high fiving patrons of Tim Horton’s in Niagara Falls and Mississauga.

The Painted Girls is different from anything on the market right now. It is a story of love, survival, and ambition. A story of lost innocence and betrayal. Buchanan’s interweaving of the true back story of Degas and the van Goethem sisters breeds familiarity and interest for the reader. But that’s not what makes this book an original. It is the intensity and passion of the author that leave me wondering if Cathy Buchanan wandered the rue de Douai in her dreams or if she ever woke with sore toes.

To experience the believable yet incredible tale, Buchanan drags us to the gritty backstreets of 19th century Paris where we gag from the smell of decay and squalor. Our fingers trace the knobby backbones and cradle the bruised and bloody toes of the poverty-stricken dancers.

Cathy Marie Buchanon
Though enveloped within the drama, we remain powerless to soothe or comfort as we become acquainted with their world, page by page. We can only sympathize with the unsophisticated but worldly girls whose miserable living conditions warrant desperate measures by all but the youngest.

There is only one explanation for Cathy Marie Buchanan’s vivid and realistic accounting of the lives of the van Goethem sisters. Reincarnation! Research alone could not give her such intimate knowledge. That’s my view of the author’s insight of dancers from that era.

How else could she write so convincingly of the menial yet tedious work, the vulgarity of speech and lifestyle, those deserted filthy alleys where Antoinette and Émile...well, as they say, read the book.

Working from the reincarnation assumption, which character is the author? Could she be the oldest of the sisters? The misguided and suffering Antoinette could be vying for redemption by telling her story of scrabbling to survive by any means possible.

My first guess is Charlotte. Of the three van Goethem sisters, Charlotte’s is the only name not to appear at the beginning of a chapter. Marie and Antoinette take turns relating their view of life and each other, including poor drunken Maman. Of the three sisters, only Charlotte carries on for over fifty years in the world of ballet.

Then again, Marie, the middle sister, is educated and loves to read. She is clever and clearly fated for greatness. Perhaps Degas’s Little Dancer would re-emerge in another lifetime. To live on forever, not as a sculpture, but as a famous author.

Enjoy an evening  with Cathy Marie Buchanan: Thursday, Sept 19, 2013, Cathy will be be speaking about her writing process and her journey as an author, and you're invited to join us. To reserve a spot, email 
Details here.

Phyllis Humby lives in rural Camlachie, Ontario, where she indulges in her passion for writing suspense/thriller novels. Her stories have appeared in Canada, The United States, and the UK. She writes a monthly opinion column, Up Close and Personal for First Monday magazine. Visit her blog, The Write Break here.

Quick Brown Fox welcomes book reviews and other book related pieces. Quick Brown Fox also welcomes reviews of plays, movies, restaurants and anything else that catches your fancy. Reviews may be straight up or tongue in cheek. You might review restaurants you can’t afford, based on what you see peering through the window or otherwise use your imagination to get up to some mischief. Email your review to me at
I'd especially like a review of Cathy's earlier novel, The Day the Falls Stood Still.

See Brian Henry's schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Kingston, Peterborough, Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Georgetown, Milton, Oakville, Burlington, St. Catharines, Hamilton, Dundas, Kitchener, Guelph, London, Woodstock, Orangeville, Newmarket, Barrie, Orillia, Gravenhurst, Sudbury, Muskoka, Peel, Halton, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.


  1. Thank you for this lovely review. I'll respond to a few points raised: I did dance quite seriously throughout my teenage years. I did wander the rue de Douai, though in 2011. I think I am most closely aligned with Marie, though Antoinette was the most fun to write. Perhaps she is my alter ego. Perhaps I want to be brash and brazen, even if I am not. Thank you, Phyllis.

    1. Aha, I knew it! Marie has re-emerged as a famous author.
      Cathy, thank you so much for your most interesting response to my musings.


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