I think we all know I’m a fan of the Phantom of the Opera…and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t the primary reason I wanted to read Marie, Dancing by Carolyn Meyer. It just happens to be set in the Paris Opera House around 1880, the same time as the Phantom. But besides that, the book also plays to my interest in Impressionist art, and in Paris in general, and in stories about strong young women. The book only shares a setting with Leroux and there are no Phantom references at all…but there is a good story and a lot of information about the Company of the Paris Opera.
Marie and her two sisters are ballet dancers at the Palais Garnier. The story opens when the painter, Monsieur Degas, selects Marie to be his model for a sculpture he has in mind–the sculpture that will become The Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen. Degas and his art are just one part of Marie’s story, as she struggles with her family’s poverty and tries to make choices about her future.
Marie lives in a very, very different world than Christine Daae. Unlike Leroux’s spooky thriller, this is a gritty, realistic book. Marie’s problems are real and serious, with never enough food, a mother who drinks too much absinthe to forget her pain, and an older sister who aspires to become a rich man’s mistress and thinks Marie should do the same. The book is not depressing exactly, but it is a glimpse at the harsh reality behind the elegant forms of the dancers.
Marie does love to dance, and she has dreams of becoming a great dancer. The book is not really about dancing though–that recedes more and more as it goes on, and becomes more about Marie’s family, her struggles, and a romance–lest you think it’s all grim!
From the point of view of a Phantom fan, this definitely gave me some different angles on things. It gave me more basic information about life at the Opera House than anything else I’ve read, and was utterly eye-opening on the subject of money. I never appreciated just how much money 20,000 francs a month (the Phantom’s salary) really is, until Marie sighed with envy over the salary of the higher-level dancers–6,800 francs a year.
The sections with Degas were particularly interesting. There are occasional references to specific sketches or paintings, and I think I recognized some famous ones! Mary Cassatt is also present as a supporting character, and I loved the glimpses of the history of Impressionism.
I would have liked more description of the setting–the Opera House is gorgeous, and yet other than a few bits here and there, I didn’t get much sense of it. But even if appearances were somewhat lacking, Marie’s world came vividly to life.
If you’re interested in dancing, and particularly the Paris Opera, this is a very good slice of historical fiction, unflinching but not unremittingly grim either, and the characters and plot are both engaging. And you’ll look at Degas’ Little Dancer in a whole new way!
Author’s Site: http://www.readcarolyn.com/
The Estella Collective
That’s all I found! Anyone else?
Buy it here: Marie, Dancing