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The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier
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The Lady and the Unicorn (2003)

by Tracy Chevalier

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In this novel, Chevalier takes on the story behind another famous work of art, this time the "lady and the unicorn" tapestry.
In 1490 Paris, painter Nicolas des Innocents is commissioned to design a tapestry for a rising noble lord. He finds inspiration, and - ahem - more, from the man's beautiful daughter Claude. Once the designs are finished, he travels to Brussels to oversee the work of a weaving family, where he seduces the weaver's daughter.

Chevalier is usually a hit or miss with me, and unfortunately, I would have to say that this one was a miss. I found the progress on the tapestry and their formative designs interesting, but I disliked the characters of the book and the unexpectedly rough writing style.

The main character, Nicolas, is a contemptible man that I held a strong disliking for. I am always intrigued by books with flawed main characters - perhaps people that you cannot help but cheer for, despite their overall wickedness. I never felt anything close to that for Nicolas, or for his main love interest, Claude.
Nicolas is at times described as having a devastating for of charm, but I just couldn't share in that opinion. He seemed brash and uncouth to me.
His pick-up line is about the tale of a unicorn that can, by putting his horn into something, purify it, implying that it can even return women to being virgins. Who do you imagine the unicorn is?
Not only is Nicolas an unapologetic womanizer (and I mean that in a distasteful way, not a sexy way), he is also quite cruel to the people that he comes in contact with.

Claude was unconvincing: a strikingly beautiful nobleman's daughter with a mind constantly on sex, audacious enough to start feeling up Nicolas on their second brief meeting. She seemed a gratuitous sex-appeal sort of character, and it all came across as very heavy-handed.

The storyline was smooth enough, and Chevalier's writing was concise and satisfactory, but there was nothing in the story itself that would make me eager to recommend this book to someone else.
Paired with such dislikable characters, I didn't enjoy this one. ( )
  joririchardson | Jun 14, 2017 |
Captivating. Great writing, interesting characters and engaging plot. I enjoyed the rotating POV, where each chapter is narrated by a different character. A great read. I second the criticism that the narrators' voices aren't sufficiently distinc, but it didn't take too much effort to look past this minor shortcoming, and enjoy the book. ( )
  jeddak | Jan 27, 2017 |
So I received this novel as a gift from my mum, who was planning to take me to see the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry in Paris for a holiday.

I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed Chevalier's other novel that I read, The Girl With the Pearl Earring. I liked that some of the characters came off the page a bit more and I really liked the pace of the novel. I feel like if I read it again I probably wouldn't like it as much though, and I felt it was really slow in parts.

It's strange because I generally do really like well thought-out historical fiction, and Chevalier is known for that, but she's just not my favourite author.

I do like that there were so many female characters in this novel though, and I think if I were to recommend one of her novels to anyone, it would be this one. ( )
  lydia1879 | Aug 31, 2016 |
I don't usually LOVE books anymore, but this I picked up and couldn't put down. I loved it. ( )
  Kristin_Curdie_Cook | Apr 29, 2016 |
I actually found this book more engaging than Girl with a Pearl Earring, even though the subject matter of "Girl" was more appealing to me (I love Vermeer).

The interesting thing that Chevalier does in this book is the point of view switches from chapter to chapter. We literally see the same story unfold from the eyes of several main players, and she does an excellent job of pulling that off. POV changes are tricky, as is this business of telling the same story, literally, over and over again. But because she inhabits each character so intimately, it kept me turning the pages.

I recommend it! ( )
  Frances.S.Brown | Apr 26, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tracy Chevalierprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hasselberger, RichardCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kirch, Eve L.Designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For my sister Kim
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The messenger said I was to come at once.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0452285453, Paperback)

If you think you wouldn't raise your skirts for a rakish legend about the purifying powers of a unicorn's horn, then maybe you aren't a 15th-century serving girl under the sway of a velvet-tongued court painter of ill repute. In keeping with her bestselling Girl with a Pearl Earring, and its Edwardian-era follow-up, Falling Angels, Tracy Chevalier's tale of artistic creation and late-medieval amours, The Lady and the Unicorn is a subtle study in social power, and the conflicts between love and duty. Nicolas des Innocents has been commissioned by the Parisian nobleman Jean Le Viste to design a series of large tapestries for his great hall (in real life, the famous Lady and the Unicorn cycle, now in Paris's Musee National du Moyen-Age Thermes de Cluny). While Nicolas is measuring the walls, he meets a beautiful girl who turns out to be Jean Le Viste's daughter. Their passion is impossible for their world--so forbidden, given their class differences, that its only avenue of expression turns out to be those magnificent tapestries. The historical evidence on which this story is based is slight enough to allow the full play of Chevalier's imagination in this cleverly woven tale. --Regina Marler

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:13 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

"A set of bewitching medieval tapestries hangs today in a protected chamber in Paris. They appear to portray a woman's seduction of a unicorn, but the story behind their making is unknown - until now." "Paris, 1490. A shrewd French nobleman commissions six lavish tapestries celebrating his rising status at Court. He hires the charismatic, arrogant, sublimely talented Nicolas des Innocents to design them. Nicolas creates havoc among the women in the house - mother and daughter, servant and lady-in-waiting - before taking his designs north to the Brussels workshop where the tapestries are to be woven." "There, master-weaver Georges de la Chapelle risks everything he has on finishing the tapestries - his finest, most intricate work - on time for his exacting French client. Ill-prepared for temptation and seduction, he and his family are consumed by the project and by their dealings with the full-blooded painter from Paris." "The results change all their lives - lives that have been captured in the tapestries, for those who know where to look."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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