Inderjit (@InderjitDeogun) is an Art History graduate, an environmentalist and a loud-and-proud bookworm. When she’s not fighting against climate change, she has her nose stuck in a book. With a particular love for children’s literature, Inderjit believes a word can be worth a thousand pictures. This is her second year participating in the 50 Book Pledge. To visit Inderjit’s bookshelf click here and be sure to check back monthly for her 50 Book Pledge updates!
Where some people have a single passion that fuels their creativity, curiosity and imagination, I have three: The environment, books and art. My attraction to the latter was so great that I specialized in art history in university. And I’m still happy to spend endless hours wandering through galleries and museums losing myself in art, wanting to decipher the purpose of each brushstroke, colour, and gesture. There is a story behind every piece of art and it’s clear that Cathy Marie Buchanan, author of The Painted Girls, knows just how true this is.
Unlike those classes I took, some of which gave but a glimpse into the artist, his life and inspiration, Buchanan ventures far deeper in The Painted Girls. She dives into Degas’ process and into the life of his subject matter. Degas aims to “capture the true story of a heart and a body” through his work and Buchanan does the same with her main characters — Antoinette, Marie and Charlotte van Goethem. The author masterfully dissects their thoughts and actions, all of which are influenced by a dead father, a drunken mother, a life of poverty and the ambition of becoming a ballerina.
These three sisters also bear “the burden of having what men desire, for the heaviness of knowing it is ours to give, that with our flesh we make our way in the world.” Both Antoinette and Marie must decide if the moral cost of prostitution is worth what a handful of francs can buy.
What struck me deeply is how these sisters perceive their own beauty and the beauty of one another.
My fingers go to my brow, drop to my jaw. I have peered into the looking glass above Papa’s sideboard and seen the beast staring back. I have seen it in the lowness of the forehead no amount of cut bangs can hide, in my protruding jaw.
A beast. That’s all Marie sees when she looks in the mirror. Not a girl who’s raising the ranks of the Paris Opéra or a girl who would deliberately cause a scene to spare her younger sister embarrassment, but a monster. I’ve been guilty of scrutinizing my reflection in the mirror. Who among us hasn’t? But, to see a beast? That broke my heart.
In spite of their many faults and hardships and the anger it all evoked in me, I still found myself relating to the van Goethem trio. More than anything else I understood the lengths each of them would go to protect the other. For example, as Antoinette makes a mad dash to find Marie in a time of need I was praying she would because, like her, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my sister.
I decided to read The Painted Girls because it’s based on Degas, a favourite of mine, and one of his most famous works, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. But what I found in its pages is artistic lyricism on a level I’ve never come across before. Each description, encounter, character realization is a painting all its own crafted not by brushstrokes but by words. It’s the most captivating book I’ve read this year and one I implore everyone read.
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