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The Lady and the Unicorn Paperback – 14 Aug 2014
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‘Beautifully written, I could not put it down… a tale of ambition, lust, betrayal and heartbreak…a compelling and enormously enjoyable work' Evening Standard
‘On the academic front, here is the old Chevalier, exact and guarded, accurate and self-contained…On the erotic front, she positively explodes, the shy smiles of Pearl Earring replaced by a terrific torrent of carnal imagery, every sense invoked and appetite exploited’ Guardian
'Tracy Chevalier gives the kiss of life to the historical novel' Independent
‘With great insight, invention and a remarkable eye for detail, Chevalier breathes life into artists and artisans, their subjects and surroundings and, most important, their magnificent creations’ Washington Post
‘The story she weaves is as lush as the tapestries she describes, and her colorful characters leap off the page. A romantic, beautiful book’ Booklist
About the Author
Tracy Chevalier is the author of six novels, including the international bestseller Girl with a Pearl Earring, Remarkable Creatures, The Virgin Blue, Falling Angels, and The Lady and the Unicorn. Born in Washington, DC, she moved to London in 1984, where she lives with her husband and son. She has a website at www.tchevalier.com.
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For some reason I didn't keep up with her output until reading the review of "The Last Runaway" which I downloaded for a holiday read and enjoyed, but again found slightly unsatisfying - mastermind subject in this case quilting. Bit of a pause and I then saw the review for her latest book and downloaded it and also - at last ! The Lady and the Unicorn. In the meantime, for no discernible reason I'd read her book on Mary Anning "Remarkable Creatures" which I thought was truly excellent. It was also a bit longer than some and thus, somehow, more satisfying. Anyway, back to the book in question. "The Lady and the Unicorn". This reverts to the original formula of "The Girl with the Pearl Earring". Take a very, very well known work of art, research how it was created, and invent a fictional cast of characters around it. So far, so good. I did enjoy it, partly because I had an immediate mental image of those marvellous tapestries, and tapestry, along with mosaic, fascinates me in its amazing artisan craftsmanship - creating paintings in fabric and stone. I do not however, think this one of her better books. I had no problem with the raunchiness - historical novelists know a bit of sex sells - Anya Seton, Sharon Penman and even, in their more restrained, bodice ripping style, Barbara Cartland and Georgina Heyer all wanted to excite their readers, but for the first time in one of her books I felt uneasily that these late 15th century people were essentially 20th century ones and that their actions and attitudes would not have been allowed for a moment. Annoyingly 20th century teenage Claude would have been whisked off to that convent in double quick time a lot sooner. Many reviewers have complained they didn't find the characters "sympathetic" - history is not necessarily sympathetic - remember that the past is another country and they do things differently there. Wherein, I think, lies my slight dissatisfaction with this book; the mechanics are magnificently described, but I don't feel the characters truly reflect or inhabit their surroundings. I would probably award this 3 1/2 stars if allowed, whilst nonetheless conceding this is a well written book that had me reading it until the small hours.
Each tapestry represents one of the senses, and (according to the story), each of the women who appears with a lion and a unicorn on either side of her is a different one that Nicolas, the artist, comes in contact with during the course of the story, which takes place in Paris and Brussels. The tapestries can also be interpreted as a seduction between 'the lady', and a man - represented by the unicorn.
As an author, it was fascinating to see how Tracy Chevalier had conjured up a story from the tapestries, using some of the real people to populate the book, along with her fictional characters. Each of the main characters related their own story or feelings in the first person, and that gave the reader an intimate relationship with each of them.
At the beginning, I did not like either the artist, Nicolas or Claude, the nobleman's daughter - she a spoiled brat, he an arrogant womaniser; I felt that, like another review I read, he was shown as being too bad at the beginning of the book, to change so much, for later, I felt he was much more caring than at first sight. Claude's character did not change so much, but was redeemed to a certain extent by her relationship to the young child of a serving girl. Alienor, the blind daughter of the Brussels weaver, inspired empathy and affection, and it was she I was most concerned about.
The factual details of weaving and the insight given into the lives of people in that period were fascinating, but for me it is always human relationships that rule the day. Would Nicolas end up with Claude, or Alienor? Would Alienor marry Nicolas, or Jacques le Boeuf, or Philipe? The meanings in the tapestries, for which, artist Nicolas had used the women he knew as unknowing models, seemed to give clues, but frequently led me up the wrong path.
I was delighted that the tapestries were included as part of the book, because I referred to them many times. At the end of the book, however, I did go onto the internet, and saw the complete tapestries, for the lion is left out of the pictures in the book - it is the lady and unicorn who are most important.
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