Friday 22 July 2022

Little Dancer, Melanie Laschallas

Paris, 1878. Ballet dancer Marie van Goethem is chosen by the unknown artist Edgar Degas to model for his new sculpture: Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen Years.

But Marie is much more than she seems. By day she’s a ‘little rat’ of the opera, contorting her starving body to entertain the bourgeoisie. By night she’s plotting to overthrow the government and reinstate the Paris Commune, to keep a promise she made to her father, a leading communard who died in the street massacres of 1871.

As Marie watches the troubling sculpture of herself come to life in Degas’ hands, she falls further into the intoxicating world of bohemian, Impressionist Paris, a world at odds with the socialist principles she has vowed to uphold.

With the fifth Impressionist Exhibition looming, a devastating family secret is uncovered which changes everything for both Marie and Degas.

As Degas struggles to finish his sculpture and the police close in on Marie, she must decide where her loyalties lie and act to save herself, her family and the Little Dancer.

This is a fascinating, absorbing book that takes you into the struggles of many Parisians in the late nineteenth century. Marie's life is hard, and her love of the part of Les Miserables that she managed to get her hands on is a constant reminder that the lives of the poor was an issue that was hard to ignore at the time. Her time at the Paris Opera is thankless and relentless, and although nervous of Degas to begin with, she finds the time in his studio becomes a safe haven. Heartbreak over her father's fate runs through the novel alongside the struggle it brought upon her remaining family, who act like he never existed. Marie desperately wants to keep his spirit alive but at what cost? As life becomes increasingly desperate and the move toward a more violent course of action becomes more prominent, she must decide how far she is willing to go.

Marie van Goethem was the real-life model for Degas' famous Little Dancer of Fourteen Years. Her story ended without a trace. Leschallas brings her back to life in this evocative novel which doesn't hide from the gritty reality of life for those struggling to get by. 

1 comment: