The Lady and the Unicorn
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About the Author
Tracy Chevalier lives in Highgate with her husband and young son.
The author of Girl with a Pearl Earring (2000) and Falling Angels (2001) offers a luminous tale about a set of medieval tapestries known as the Lady and the Unicorn sequence. Nicolas des Innocents, a handsome, lascivious artist, is summoned to the home of Jean Le Viste, a nobleman who wants Nicolas to design a series of battle tapestries. Jean's wife, Genevieve, persuades Nicolas to talk her husband into a softer subject: the beguilement 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 Genevieve and her daughter, Claude, with whom Nicolas is smitten, for the ladies. After finishing the paintings, Nicolas travels from Paris to Brussels, where Georges de la Chapelle will weave them. At first Nicolas is standoffish and scornful of Georges but gradually comes to respect him and take an interest in his blind daughter. But Nicolas' heart lies with the unattainable Claude. Chevalier meticulously describes the complex process of creating a tapestry, from its conception to the moment it is pulled off the loom. The story she weaves is as lush as the tapestries she describes, and her colorful characters leap off the page. A romantic, beautiful book. Kristine Huntley
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Top Customer Reviews
Chevalier starts with one of the few facts that is actually known about the tapestries: they were created for the nobleman Jean Le Viste, whose family coat of arms features prominently in their design. In Chevalier's portrayal, Le Viste is a power-hungry nobleman with close ties to the king. He wants tapestries depicting the glories of war, but the artist, Nicolas des Innocents --- who specializes in portraits of noblewomen --- convinces Le Viste that a series of tapestries about courtly love will still bring glory to the Le Viste name.
Nicolas himself is a womanizer --- the novel opens from his point of view, and we quickly learn that his amorous sights are set on Le Viste's teenage daughter, Claude. Much to the reader's surprise (and delight), when Claude narrates the next section of the novel we learn that she is just as lustful as Nicolas, and her prose just as bawdy. Needless to say, when Claude's family discovers their flirtation, her mother (who wants to be a nun) must concoct a plan to keep the would-be lovers apart. Claude is banished to a convent and Nicolas is sent to Brussels to supervise the weaving of the tapestries there.Read more ›
It takes place in 1490, in Paris, when a nobleman commissions Nicholas des Innocents to draw the designs for a tapestry. Nicholas is a bit of a womanizer; and after realizing on the 2nd page that the maid he slept with last time is pregnant, he turns around and falls in love with the nobleman's daughter, Claude. Claude can't marry him, so she is sent to a convent temporarily while Nicholas goes to Brussels to see the tapestry being made. Nicholas meets the weaver and his family, and falls in love with the weaver's blind daughter, Alienor. Although it sounds like a shallow love story, it is not. Each chapter is written by a different character; of course Nicholas, Claude, and Alienor have their chapters, but the weaver, the nobleman, and Claude's mother all have their own chapters that tell their stories and problems. Since Tracy Chevalier is such a skilled author, the chapters flow very well, even though the character voice shifts. The ending is spectacular; it ties up all of the loose ends very neatly, but doesn't give a cheesy, predictable ending.
The descriptions in the book are gorgeous; you can immediately visualize the setting of late-medieval/early renaissance Europe. They are never too detailed that they slow the plot down. One word of caution: since the descriptions go into so much detail, that means that the love scenes are rather graphic. It seems like a fairly innocent book, but don't be fooled. It's definitely not porn or even close, but there are some scenes that can be a bit shocking if you're not expecting them.Read more ›
Although The Lady and the Unicorn is, indeed, very similar to Chevalier's earlier novels, Falling Angels and Girl With a Pearl Earring, there are several things which make this novel stand apart from the rest. Chevalier perfects her art with each book she writes. The Lady and the Unicorn is historically more accurate, and extends beyond the artwork or historical milieu. Often it is tempting to wonder about something that is not known, and Chevalier toys with her subject (the tapestry and the people involved) to create a masterpiece.
In all, this is a highly enjoyable, exciting piece of literature that shouldn't be missed. Tracy Chevalier supassed my expectations of her.
Most recent customer reviews
Tracey Chevalier can take a piece of art and create a whole believable backstory. When reading her book, you get a sense of ownership and see in this case, the famous Cluny... Read morePublished 18 months ago by Carole P. Roman
I discovered this author when I purchased a used copy of her first novel, The Girl With a Pearl Earring. I have now read almost all of her works to date. Read morePublished on July 17 2014 by Mrs Leslie B Van de Laar
I enjoyed this book because I was going to France and Belgium and found the history of making the tapestries extremely interesting. Read morePublished on May 26 2013 by EA Dodd
This story is set in medieval/Renaissance France
A rich Paris merchant, commissions a young portrait artist better know for his womanizing to design dramatic tapestries... Read more
Boy, I wasn't ready for this one! Tracy Chevalier's tale of an artist and his dallying with the servants is a subtle study in power plays, moray of the past, and sexy and... Read morePublished on Oct. 20 2004 by Jacques
Like a good deal of people I came to this book via "Girl With a Pearl Earring." Now I'm a dyed-in-the-wool fan of Chevalier. Read morePublished on July 28 2004
Chevalier writes much better female characters than men. Still, this book is a great read. While I liked "Girl with a Pearl Earring" slightly better, this book comes in... Read morePublished on June 30 2004
What the Girl With the Pearl Earring was to painting, The Lady and the Unicorn is to weaving. Beautifully told, through the varying viewpoints of the main characters. Read morePublished on June 29 2004
The form of this book was what was most unique about it--each chapter is told by a different character. But aside from that, the writing also stood out. Read morePublished on June 15 2004