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3.8 out of 5 stars86
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on 11 August 2005
Tracy Chevalier is a brilliant storyteller. In The Lady and the Unicorn, just as in Girl with a Pearl Earing, she uses a real work of art as the basis for a fictional story. We are presented with the contrasting home life of a family of tapestry weavers (poor but cheerful and busy) and the Le Vistes in their castle (wealthy but depressed and tedious). You might think the plot sounds fairly twee and predictable, but in fact the story is absorbing. Nicolas is a rogue but I liked him anyway, if only for bringing excitement, repressed though it may be in some cases, into the lives of the women. The oppression of the richer women was striking.
Chevalier's powers of description are superb - she makes it possible for her reader to step back in time. Although the book is set in medieval times, the historical detail is not too overwhelming. The story unfolds at a gentle pace, making it a relaxing read.
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on 26 June 2007
A wonderful book. Having only read 'The Virgin Blue' (which I adored) this was very different and will certainly have me racing out for her other books. Speaking of racing, this book will certaily do that to your heart rate! It's sauciness at it's best. Nicolas des Innocents is certainly not what his name suggests; he is a fifteenth century naughty boy! As a Parisian painter of portraits he is bewildered when he is asked to design some tapestries for Jean Le Viste (a nobleman close to the King).

One look at Le Viste's daughter Claude and he is in love, big style. They are almost caught in the act and because of this he (and she) are kept under close watch. He is dragged into the families unsettled relationships and lives. We then meet the actual weaver and his family during Nicolas' journeys to Brussells. He acts out his desires a few times more there with the resulting consequences not quite being what you expect. During the time it takes to make the tapestries we know a lot about all of the characters from themselves.

Wonderful prose, made all the better with each chapter being picked up by another character. A trait I don't always enjoy but it really worked in this novel. The description and feelings Chevalier evokes are a pleasure and this book should be a fabulous journey with a satisfying ending.

The tapestries described are gorgeous, made more so at the hands of Chevalier. It is a heady mix of art, history and fiction. Chevalier has made it as accurately possible with the facts available to her but admits that some parts have had to be changed in the interests of fiction namely because all of the details weren't available to her. I don't feel it matters as you still get the essence of how devine tapestries like this would be. It is testiment to her imagination that we get to see the story behind a set of them.
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on 23 March 2009
To be honest, not one of Tracy Chevalier's best but despite not being that keen tapestries, I was still expecting to be entertained. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. But I was educated. The book is packed with spot-on details of the period, the author's trademark. I was less enamoured with the character of the tapestries' designer. Not that he wasn't well written, he was, but it's my understanding that a book's 'baddie' should have some redeeming feature to ensure a touch of reader-sympathy in order to keep the reader reading. Well, I didn't stop reading but I disliked the antihero more and more as the tale progressed. No loveable rogue he! It is mainly because of this man's actions, and those of others in the artistic chain, which have such an effect on the lives of several young girls and one weaver's family.

The story of a nobleman's need for public acknowledgement leads to his commissioning several pieces of needlework detailing his status at court. It is the the hard, unfair lives of those appointed to carry out this indulgency which forms the basis of this book. Almost erotic in parts (a bit of a surprise that), its historical facts are as seamlessly presented as ever. (see above) And in this case, knowing that the tapestries in question are real does add an extra layer of interest and speculation. Fortunately, there's a reasonable conclusion - and that's not telling tales - but I so wanted to sort out that 'baddie' right from his first appearance that it coloured my perspective throughout.

I read this quickly because I semi disliked it, but as Tracy Chevalier is incapable of writing badly, I knew it would be a good story and ultimately, it was. Still is.
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VINE VOICEon 31 March 2007
Far raunchier than The Girl with the Pearl Earring...with the key character in the book being a Parisian artist whose main hobby is seducing women (or should that be farming?!) ;-)

Chevalier tells a good story though and I enjoyed the way each character had their own chapters where we heard their take on things.

Chevalier's particular talent is for bringing the sights and smells of her settings alive to the reader, therefore she was the ideal author to describe a tapestry relating to the five senses. I felt I could see and smell the places described, from the fragrant lily of the valley in Aliénor's garden to the early warning smell of Jacques Le Boeuf!!

In addition, the colour plates depicting the tapestry were very useful to refer to throughout the story.

I found this book interesting historically, artistically and in the very human way we conduct our relationships. The author has surely suceeded in making us look at the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries with new eyes and a little romance.
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The Lady and the Unicorn reminded me of the bawdy stories in the Decameron and the Canterbury Tales translated into a novel about the creation of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. With each chapter the narrator shifts so you get a better sense of each character's personality and history.
The book has two remarkable strengths that were not sustained throughout. First, the book opens with constant surprises. Each chapter quickly takes you off in a new direction that makes the book's development a delight. Second, you receive a nice briefing on how tapestries were conceived, commissioned, designed and executed. If the book had continued its focus on these elements, this would have been a remarkably good book. But, alas, the story bogged down into too much detail about the fictional lives of the tapestry makers and the commissioner's family. Those shifts turned an intriguing book into a soap-opera like story line. Ultimately, the book resolves its tensions in ways that few will find pleasing or very interesting. So you go from a five star opening to about a two star ending. But the beginning is so brilliant that you should read the book. For happiest reading, you can stop after page 126.
Every good novel has at least one arresting character. In The Lady and the Unicorn that character is Alienor de la Chapelle. I won't say more because you should read about her to form your own opinions. But do be on the lookout when she appears in the book.
Nicolas des Innocents, the artist, on the other hand is a pig. I would have enjoyed the story more if he had been a spiritually uplifted character rather than a roué.
Find beauty all around you!
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on 31 March 2005
Does she never disappoint? Tracy Chevalier's lastest novel is as richly detailed and engrossing as her previous three. Once again there is the same wealth of convincing historical detail, well-drawn characters and quickly moving plotline. She uses the same technique as 'Falling Angels' of multiple first person narrators, except she has clearly had time to hone it - to me, it worked better in this novel as the sections were longer and so less disjointed, giving more of an insight into the characters.
All the characters were quirky and realistically imperfect, particularly, Nicolas, who made a refreshing change from the romantic hero. Equally refreshing was the almost unsatisfying ending...without giving too much away, it follows in the good old tradition of not letting everyone live happily ever after. Once again, the world in which the characters lived is depicted convincingly and the details of tapestry making were interesting and informative - the sort to make you look more closely at Medieval tapestries in the future.
My only reservation would be the book's length, in that it seemed too short. Unlike 'Girl with a Pearl Earring', which is a concise gem, the plot was much more expansive, covering two families, and it would have been nice to see a little more development of their respective storylines. The book seemed to draw to a close when one had just got into it.
But anyway, a very pleasant read.
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on 23 September 2003
Looks like Tracy Chevalier's done it again.
This is the story of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries in the Cluny museum in Paris. Like in Girl with a Pearl Earring, Chevalier has chosen a real work of art about which rather little is actually known, and woven a tale about what might have been the circumstances under which it was commissioned and created.
In Lady and the Unicorn, we enter into the world of 15th century Paris and Brussels but this is no boring history lesson. This story is full of jealousy and intrigue, passion and sex even. I'll certainly never look at blue tapestries in the same way - I could practically smell the reeking woad-dyer.
For me, this book is as successful as Girl With a Pearl Earring and more deftly told than Falling Angels. The voices are clearer and frankly, it's a happier read. I also found it more coherent than The Virgin Blue because it's all set in the same period and doesn't dot around between its historical setting and the modern day.
This really is a brilliant piece of writing. Recommended.
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on 23 July 2004
The lady and the unicorn was enchanting, the writing was brilliant and you had added depth from the character rotation - writing from several point of views allows you to really get to know and explore each person so techincally there is no 'goodies' or 'baddies' although my heart goes out to the two main characters at the end! It really is a wonderful read and brings you into peoples minds, work and beautiful art - it won't dissapoint!
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on 6 April 2013
I enjoyed this book but didnt care much for the protagonist, the womanising and arrogant artist , Nicholas DE Innocents, but this is also about a noble Parisian family and a Brussels tradesman and his family in the late 15th century. An essay on relations between men and woman at they type, and a lot of symbolism between the characters in the book and the figures of the tapestry which is commissioned by a Parisien nobleman.
Something to learn about tapestry making but does not deal with it in the same detail that say Irving Stone dealt marble in The Agony and The Ecstasy.
Tracy Chevalier is a brilliant word-smith who brings to life the sights and sounds and emotions and activities of the period pieces she spacializes in. Her novel written after this Burning Bright is even better than this one
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on 4 September 2004
Most of us, at one time or another, have looked at a work of art and wondered about the details - what is the relationship between the people in the painting? where is it set? who asked for it to be painted?
With her latest work, The Lady and The Unicorn, Tracy Chevalier answers these questions beautifully. She brings to life for us the creation of six 15th century Flemish tapestries, which tell the story of lady seducing a unicorn.
The novel is as detailed as the tapestries (helpfully reproduced in colour in the book). Initially conceived of as a status symbol for an insecure French nobleman, the tapestries' design is also influenced by his family and by the weavers commissioned to produce them. As she shows us how each one contributes to the tapestries, she also reveals how the tapestries in turn change their lives.
The painter wants money and women but finds himself moved by the plight of the weaver's blind daughter and touched by the piety of the nobleman's wife. The weaver knows the commission is too ambitious for his workshop but is seduced by the beauty of the ladies in the pictures. The young cartoonist is inspired to find the courage to declare his love.
Tracy Chevalier has a rare ability, to bring a period to life without labouring her point. We are never lectured on the hardships of the poor, the constraints of status on the wealthy, or the influence of religion and the Church; but through the narrations of the characters we come to understand these well.
However this novel is about people, not about great works of art. It is an easy read, an escape into a different way of life and a charming reminder that while social mores may have changed dramatically over the last five hundred years, the human condition has not. We still want love and happiness and money and status are rarely any guarantee of those. Reading this book is a much better bet!
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