Today's the day for some serious book talk! How are you doing with the book? Have you started it yet? Finished it? Do you have any reactions you'd like to share?
Here are a few questions to ponder today and for the next while -- whether you have begun reading, or you've only read blurbs & our interview so far and still have something to say, join in! Although there might be a few spoilers in the questions and discussion below so if you haven't got too far yet you might want to come back to this post.
1. What was the first thing that drew you to this book? Was it the setting? The historical context? Ballet?
I first read this book because I'd read the author's first novel, The Day the Falls Stood Still, and enjoyed it. Plus the idea of Degas and art and ballet and sisters all rolled together for me into a tempting package, even if I don't read a lot of historical fiction regularly. And there is somehow always that attraction to stories of Paris.
2. Do you enjoy the narrative switching between Antoinette and Marie? Do you prefer one over the other?
I really liked how the narrative weaves different perspectives together. I liked the gritty urgency of Antoinette's chapters, but I loved Marie's take on things, her softness and her uncertainty about life. Maybe because she is the middle sister, I felt like I could understand her approach to life with a strong older sister and a beautiful adored younger sister -- she has to find her own place somehow. Obviously I felt a kindred middle sister connection!
3. What do you think of the abundance of female relationships in this book -- from sisters to mother-daughter to frenemies or fellow dancers, there are a lot of female interactions -- do you think they capture life realistically?
I loved the way that female experience was primary in all ways in this book. From the sisters themselves to their mother's sad life and other laundresses she worked with; to the other, competitive ballet dancers or Antoinette's female companions who always have their eye on the same men; to Marie and Antoinette's own future families -- all of these were drawn with strength. I was glad to see their complexity -- the women are all fully realized people, not all good and not all bad.
4. Did any part of the story surprise or shock you? Were you aware of what life was like for young ballet dancers in this era before reading this?
I was in a general sense, mostly from reading classics like Jane Eyre & the like. But I felt that this book really dug into the visceral experience of these girls, and made it feel contemporary and very realistic. Their options, or lack of them, were clearly shown, and the fight for abonnés makes a lot of sense when it's a struggle for survival.
As for shocking, Emile's character and his crimes were queasy-making for me. I skimmed over some of the descriptions of he and his friends doing bad things -- I don't read dark mystery novels because I can't take the gore, and I found that some of this story had the same feel!
5. What do you think of Degas' role in the story? In his final exhibition of Marie's statue alongside a criminal's sketch is he betraying her or saying something else altogether?
Personally, I thought he was cruelly oblivious in the way he presented his statue. After all the time he spent with Marie in the book, and the ways in which, according to her perceptions, they'd connected in some way, to expose her to mockery and slanderous character judgements by thoughtlessly (I hope) suggesting that her physiognomy was also criminal was cruel. But perhaps that was inevitable considering the view of the petites rats at that time, and because of Marie's conviction of her own ugliness according to contemporary ideals of beauty.
6. Did Antoinette's obsession with Emile ring true for you? What did you think of Antoinette's whole social circle and Emile in particular?
He was just so awful from the beginning, and I could understand though not approve of Antoinette's fixation on him. I thought for sure she'd see through him sooner, considering her strong personality and her connection to her family and sisters that he tried to sever. All the men in the group, and many of the other women were clearly out to get what they could for themselves, no matter who got in the way. Antoinette pretended to fit in but I never felt she had the hardness to really be part of that circle.
7. Was Marie justified in destroying evidence showing Emile's innocence of a second murder? Why do you think she did it?
One word: yes! He was so despicable that I'd have done the same. Now, Marie didn't have the context and evidence that the reader does, but still. Do it Marie!
8. Is there anything specific in the book that has sparked an idea for a project yet? Are you mulling over any ideas?
I am feeling inspired by the setting right now -- there are a couple of dresses by French designers, even some of our sponsors, that are calling to me. And I'm also thinking about potential "French feeling" fabric in my stash that I could use. But I'm also thinking about the ballet as reflecting a feeling of lightness and flowiness in fashion, and how to interpret that into something I might wear -- a summer dress, from rayon challis perhaps... clearly I still haven't decided on my final project!
|Photo by Thomas William on Unsplash|