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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Book Review: The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier


The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier
Unabridged, 8 hr.
Sound Library
Robert Blumenfeld & Terry Donnelly (narrators)
December 29, 2003
★★★☆☆

Genre: Art Historical Fiction, Audiobook

Source: Borrowed Audiobook from Library
“Two families, two cities, one rogue go-between, and a set of gorgeous tapestries, all in a late medieval setting.

Nicolas des Innocents, a handsome, lascivious artist, is summoned to the Paris home of Jean Le Viste, a nobleman who wants Nicolas to design a series of battle tapestries for his house. Jean’s wife, Geneviève, persuades Nicolas to talk her husband into a softer subject: the taming of a unicorn by a noblewoman. Nicolas shapes the tapestries with his own vision, dedicating five of the six to the senses and using the images of Geneviève and her daughter, Claude, with whom Nicolas is smitten, for two of the ladies in the tapestries.

Nicolas takes the finished designs to Brussels, where master weaver Georges de la Chapelle will make them. At first Nicolas is scornful of Georges, but gradually comes to respect him and his wife Christine, and to take an interest in his daughter Aliénor. Nicolas models two more of the ladies in the tapestries after Christine and Aliénor, but his heart lies with the unattainable Claude.

Several story strands are woven together through the design and making of these complex, seductive tapestries” 
While the title of this novel relates directly to the tapestries, this story was as much about who these characters are and how they change, as it is about the making of the tapestries. We are first introduced to Nicolas, the artist who is to make the designs for the tapestries. He is one of those types of people who like to surround himself with those who are better than he is. He becomes the go-between in this story between the Le Viste family (who the tapestries are being made for) and the Chapelle family (the weavers who are making the tapestry). These two worlds couldn’t be more different. The Le Viste’s live in France and are wealthy, while the Chapelle’s live in Brussels and are artisans (though their shop does pretty well). One thing that the author did well was to illustrate the differences between these two classes of people.

A decent amount of time is spent in describing what the tapestries look like, what they represent, and the process of making them. I have never made a tapestry before, nor have I seen one made, so this was a very interesting portion of the book. For a stretch of time the tapestries become almost another character. I definitely recommend taking a look at them online before or during reading this as the visual will really enhance the reading experience.

Each chapter in this novel is narrated by a different character (from both families). Sometimes you would be able to see the same event from the perspective of the different characters – which enabled there to be a well rounded view of the events that transpired. I found myself being more interested in the chapters that we narrated by the female characters. I found the main character, Nicolas, to be whiney and mostly just chasing after the young girls. The female chapters just seemed to have more energy put into them by the author and felt more real.

Overall, I thought this book was good, not excellent like A Girl With a Pearl Earring. There was a very different energy to this book, and I felt that it moved a lot slower. I can’t even say that it was because it was more focused on the characters, because Pearl Earring was very focused on the development of the characters. I can’t exactly put my finger on why but I just wasn’t as thrilled with the story – it didn’t leave me dying to get back to the book the next time I was in the car. I think that I am still going to read some of her other books, but this one doesn’t exactly land on the top of my list.

Author Tracy Chevalier also has written The Last Runaway, Remarkable Creatures, Burning Bright, Falling Angels, The Girl With the Pearl Earring, and Virgin Blue. You can visit Chevalier’s website for additional information about the book. You can also read the first chapter to get a taste of the writer’s style.

 
★★★½☆☆
 
I really liked having both a male and female narrator to read the different characters - although I preferred the female roles much better - it was just easier on my ear. I also appreciated listening to this one because there were a lot of French terms that made it sound more realistic.

My reviews of other books by this author:

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N, RJ Julia (my fav indie bookstore).


 



Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for giving the first chapter. My appetite is whetted for the balance!

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  2. I haven't read Pearl Earring but did read this one. I agree with you on the slow pace but I was interested enough to finish the story. I also looked at the tapestry online as well. It blew my mind away. The work involved is incredible. Great review H!

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  3. I've been wanting to read Pearl Earring for the longest time! I do hope it's better than this one (too bad it was a bit of a disappointing read... which I will skip altogether) Thanks for the review! I'll go update your stats for the Fr. Challenge:)

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  4. Jenny Girl - If you enjoyed this one, you will really enjoy Pearl Earring!

    Ms. Lucy - The only reason that I actually read this one was because it was on audio. I wanted to read more of her books, but I'm glad it didn't use up my precious reading time.

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  5. I have read both books and completely agree with your review. As I was reading it, I was shaking my head in agreement. I read The Lady and the Unicorn last year and had to check my book diary to see I had given it a 3-1/2, the 1/2 for the mesmerizing way in which Chevalier describes the tapestries. As an artist (painter) reading about the creative process and work behind the tapestries was fascinating. I think part of the reason Unicorn fell short for me was the high expectations I had from Pearl Earring.

    The only art HF books that I like as much as Pearl Earring were Susan Vreeland's Luncheon of the Boating Party about Impressionist painter Renoir's creation of this amazing painting (which you must print a copy of to keep with you as you read) and The Passion of Artemesia about the first recognized Italian female painter. This last one might even be better than Pearl Earring for me.

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  6. Noseeroda - I did love the way she described the tapestries. I had not know how you make a tapestry, so that part was very interesting. I do think part of the downfall was that I had read Pearl Earring first. I have all of Vreeland's books on my shelf to get to, and I will definately take your advice to print the painting. I recently read Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell, which I liked as much as Pearl Earring. I have a bunch of art fiction, I just have to get to it!

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  7. I discovered Claude and Camille through your HF Roundtable and have added to my must read list. You have whetted my appetite even more! Plus it is about an Impressionist painter which is one of my personal favorites, although I am a realist painter myself, go figure (I think I am just jealous).

    One of the interesting things for me with having the "Luncheon" painting printed up was figuring out which characters from the book were which people in the painting. It just allowed me to get more absorbed into the novel.

    I am so glad I have discovered HF reader blogs and others who appreciate the same genre - what fun!

    Dawn

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Thanks for leaving your comments! I love reading them and try to reply to all!