I try not to buy into hype, because hype can lead to disappointment. And disappointment leads to you wondering why the heck you’re wasting time reading this when you could be reading so many other things instead.
In case you couldn’t guess, I was disappointed by this book. I’d heard the hype and immediately added it to my To-Read list on Good Reads. I went to Amazon and added it to my cart (but never finished the transaction). I went to Barnes and Nobles one day to browse and almost picked it up intending to buy it. I skimmed the first few pages and set it back down and instead waited for it to come in at the library. It finally did and now? I’m glad I didn’t spend money on it.
This book is boring. It’s bland. It’s devoid of personality, both in place and in character. The snippets all tease of the Belle Époque setting, but these girls are just generically poor. If there was no mention of it, you’d never know. There is mention of an opera and a tavern and a brothel and not much else. You could have set this book in 18th century London or maybe even bump it up 50 years and set it in New York and it would have felt the same. And when you describe the prison as an existence that actually seems to be an improvement on the life they lead on the outside? Something just seems off.
The characters had no life to them either. There are four main girls in the family: Maman, who is basically a drunk and exists as a foreshadow as to what the two protagonists will likely become. There is Charlotte, the youngest daughter who only seems to exist because the author wants to suggest that girls of this social class could make a decent life for themselves (the character herself though is rarely heard from and when she is, it’s never substantial). Then we have the two protagonists. Two protagonists that I did not care about. Marie holds the more promise of the two, but her self-loathing colors her so that we the reader do not develop a reason to like her. Her sister, Antoinette, is not so self-loathing but it so in love with this boy for reasons that never make sense (neither is developed enough to explain her devotion) that you just want to smack her upside the head for some common sense.
All in all there was no one to root for, no reason to care. A plot existed, but was meager at best and it feels deliberate, that this was supposed to be a character driven piece. But what the author forgot is that the whole thing falls apart if you don’t have characters to care for.
Finally, don’t expect to get any interesting insights on Degas or his art, or the life of the ballet girls at the Opera. For all that Marie is there, you see so little interaction between her and the others that you get no sense of life there and the commentary about the ballet (at one point Marie talks about needing to have Sylphan grace while having cracking knees and bleeding toes) is so basic that I’m not even sure that the author even did any research.
I just don’t get the hype on this one. I really, really don’t. I honestly don’t have anything positive to say. I can’t even say that this book was compulsively readable like Illuminate was, or that it was so bad it was almost good. It was just boring and a chore and made me skim through it. I will never truly regret reading a book, but I would lie if I said I wasn’t happy to be moving on.
Verdict: Don’t Bother