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The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Mon August 25th, 2008, 7:16 pm

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier

This book is a fictional account of the commission, design and manufacture of five now-famous tapestries, going from character to character in the tale of their making and the personal story behind each picture. Like all of Chevalier’s work, it is rich in accurate detail of the times.

Tracy Chevalier took a risk when she started her story in the viewpoint of an unlikable character: vain, self-centered, and careless of having gotten a girl ‘in trouble’. She followed it with a second viewpoint, this of a teenaged spoiled brat with nothing on her mind but defying her mother and getting laid, no matter the consequences. If I had not read Girl with a Pearl Earring and found it decently written, I might not have continued beyond the second chapter.

But in the artistic theme of the lady’s seduction of the unicorn and the arrogant Nicholas’ use of that metaphor in his well-used one-liner for the ladies, I could see the germ of a redemptive theme, so I kept reading. Chevalier shortly switched to more sympathetic viewpoints, that of the long-suffering wife and mother who must manage the brat, and from there to the household of tapestry-weavers in Brussels and their blind daughter.

As the story weaves back and forth between the pressures of a noble household, the business of a middle-class one, and the harsh realities of life for the serving class. Chevalier also portrayed the pervasiveness of the church in people’s daily lives. Although that part seemed a little clinical, like an alien commenting on the strange doings of earth people with no idea what might drive them to behave so. Perhaps that is only her style; at times she described the sex act with the same detachment.

The interdependence of people on each other in the renaissance world was used to good effect to create the story: the supplier of woad is a boor, but he can lay a claim on the hand of the weaver’s daughter because they need the blue he manufactures to complete the project. The wife can weave just as well as her husband, but the guild would fine them if she was discovered to be working. No work is allowed before a certain time in the morning or after another in the evening to protect the weavers, but there is no protection from the threats of a client who demands his tapestry early.

Ms. Chevalier braids in one well-researched thread after another to make the multiple people and their dilemmas come alive. The story was not a sweeping one that should be surveyed from a distance, but a minuscule collection of details, best viewed with a magnifying glass. This is why the collection of first-person viewpoints works so well in this case.

The end is not surprising, but does wind things up very believably. A nice satisfying read, and great for research and atmosphere, although not really a page turner.

As a story, I’ll give it three and a half stars, but for research, it’s a five-star.

tsjmom
Reader

Postby tsjmom » Thu August 28th, 2008, 8:36 pm

I recently finished this short, sweet, easy read. I found the story telling refreshing using a different character's voice and perspective for each chapter. That was different from most books I read and a nice little twist.

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diamondlil
Bibliomaniac

Postby diamondlil » Sat August 30th, 2008, 10:12 am

I really loved Girl with a Pearl Earring and nothing has lived up to that book for me. This is one of the books that I haven't yet read though.

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Perdita
Reader
Location: London
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Postby Perdita » Sat August 30th, 2008, 3:30 pm

This was one of my favourites by Chevalier, it's something that I could go back to one day and re-read

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Kailana
Reader
Location: Nova Scotia, Canada
Contact:

Postby Kailana » Sat August 30th, 2008, 7:37 pm

Yeah, I have liked books I have read by her, but I can't say I really loved any of them...

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Veronica
Avid Reader
Location: NT, Australia

Postby Veronica » Fri September 30th, 2011, 4:31 am

This would be one of my favourite books and as mentioned by anoher member I could also consider to read it again (which I never thought I would say about any book.)
[SIZE="3"]"Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted"[/SIZE]

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Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Currently reading: A Trail through Time by Jodi Taylor & Angel by L J Ross
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Postby Madeleine » Fri September 30th, 2011, 8:57 am

This is my second favourite TC book after "Girl". I loved it, although I agree with MLE that it takes a bit of getting into, but once it got going - I found it a bit slow at first - I was engrossed, and I loved the ending. Slightly whimsical, but very vividly written and imagined.
Currently reading "A Trail through Time" by Jodi Taylor & "Angel" by L J Ross

Ash
Bibliomaniac
Location: Arizona, USA

Postby Ash » Fri September 30th, 2011, 1:15 pm

I read this the year before I actually got to see the tapestries at the MET. Not only was it a well written book, but reading it gave me a much better idea of what I was looking at. I also loved reading how it was made. I probably liked this book even more than Girl with the Pearl Earring!

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EC2
Bibliomaniac
Location: Nottingham UK
Contact:

Postby EC2 » Fri September 30th, 2011, 9:01 pm

I enjoyed this one too, but then I have liked all of Tracy Chevalier's that I have read so far.
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

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Veronica
Avid Reader
Location: NT, Australia

Postby Veronica » Sat October 1st, 2011, 11:09 pm

Think Burning bright would be the only one of her books that I struggle to finish. It was a bit tedious.
[SIZE="3"]"Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted"[/SIZE]


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