Top positive review
Tracy Chevalier - Queen of the factual historical fiction novella
on 18 July 2016
Like many readers of her books, I was first lured in by "The Girl with the Pearl Earring" which, along with many, I loved. Such a clever concept - take an extremely well known work of art, research how it was actually made and create some fictional characters around it - result. Telling my sons how much I liked it resulted in one of them giving me two of her other books; "The Virgin Blue", her first (and not quite in the same genre) and possibly my favourite, and "Falling Angels" with which I was slightly disappointed and mentally marked down as "slight".
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.