Friday, February 8, 2013

Read Alike: The Painted Girls

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan has received praise from critics and was selected as an Indie Next title for January by the American Booksellers Association.

This is Ms. Buchanan's second work of historical fiction, and both of her novels have been carefully researched regarding the real people and events she describes. She was born and raised in Niagara, Ontario, which helped to inspire her first novel, The Day the Falls Stood Still which tells the story of the arrival of hydroelectric power at Niagara Falls.

Photo by Frank Kovalchek
Before becoming a novelist, she received an MBA and worked for IBM. You can read more about Ms. Buchanan, arrange for her to talk with your book club over Skype, or see what book she's currently reading on her website: www.cathymariebuchanan.com

The Painted Girls tells the story behind Degas' sculptures and paintings of ballerinas, and draws special inspiration from the sculpture at left, La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans (The Little Dancer of Fourteen Years). The story of three sisters of low birth, who seek to survive in the world of ballet, is told from the perspective of Marie van Goethem, who posed for Degas' statue. The novel is compelling and romantic, and Buchanan paints an atmospheric picture of life in 19th century Paris. As Susan Vreeland says in her review for the Washington Post, this "is a captivating story of fate, tarnished ambition and the ultimate triumph of sister-love."

If you're interested in reading more novels about the reality behind famous works of art, the work of Susan Vreeland would be an excellent place to start after you've finished The Painted  Girls. Ms. Vreeland is the author of several lyrical novels that illustrate the worlds and minds of artists and their art. Her titles are well-researched, leisurely paced, and character-driven.
  • In Clara and Mr. Tiffany, she tells the story of Clara Driscoll, an employee of Louis Comfort Tiffany, and the creative mind behind the iconic Tiffany lamp. This lushly visual novel explores the life of the little known artist and the dynamic period at the turn of the century.
  • Her Luncheon of the Boating Party tells the story behind Renoir’s famous painting, and the real people depicted upon his canvas.
Tracy Chevalier's first novel, Girl With a Pearl Earring, is a character-driven and lyrical imagining of the story behind Vermeer's famous painting. Sixteen-year-old Griet is a maid for the Vermeer family, with an eye for beauty and order, which attracts the attention of the artist. The novel was also adapted as a film starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth.

Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore is a more irreverently whimsical examination of an artist's inspiration. Though his offbeat novels aren't for everyone, readers familiar with the art world of 19th century France are sure to find a few laughs in Moore's dark humor. Sacre Bleu is the story of Lucien Lessard and his friend Henri Toulouse-Lautrec's quest to find the truth behind the death of Vincent Van Gogh.

Other novels of artistic inspiration worth checking out:
Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
The story of the woman who inspired Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, Alice Liddell.


Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
The Women by T.C. Boyle
Two books about the life and loves of Frank Lloyd Wright, and topic of a staff review by Betty.

Girl Reading by Katie Ward
Ms. Ward takes inspiration from seven paintings of women reading from different periods throughout history in this collection of short stories.

Eight Girls Taking Pictures by Whitney Otto
Ms. Otto's novel takes its inspiration from the lives of 19th century female photographers, though the characters in this collection are fictional.

Please stop by the Recommendations Desk on the first floor, check out NoveList Plus on the library's website, or visit W. 11th & Bluff next week for more reading suggestions. Or submit a Personal Recommendations request, and we'll create a reading list just for you!

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