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The Lady and the Unicorn


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About the Author

Tracy Chevalier is the author of six novels, including the international bestseller Girl with a Pearl Earring, Remarkable Creatures, The Virgin Blue, Falling Angels, and The Lady and the Unicorn. Born in Washington, DC, she moved in 1984 to London, where she lives with her husband and son.


Chevalier, whose bestselling Girl with a Pearl Earring showed how a picture can inspire thousands of words, yokes her limpid, quietly enthralling storytelling to the six Lady and the Unicorn tapestries that hang in the Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris. As with her Vermeer novel, she takes full creative advantage of the mystery that shrouds an extraordinary collaborative work of art. Building on the little that is known or surmised-in this case that the tapestries were most likely commissioned by the French noble Jean Le Viste and made in a workshop in Brussels at the end of the 15th century-she imagines her way into a lost world. We are introduced to Nicholas des Innocents, the handsome, irrepressibly seductive artist who designed the works for the cold Le Viste, a rich, grim social climber who bought his way into the nobility and cares more about impressing the king and his court than pleasing the wife who has disappointed him by bearing three girls and no sons. Le Viste's wife, Genevi?ve, tells Nicholas to create scenes with a unicorn but Nicholas's love of women-and especially of Genevi?ve's beautiful daughter Claude-inspires the extraordinary faces and gestures of the women he depicts. A great romance unfolds. What makes the tale enthralling are the details Chevalier offers about the social customs of the time and, especially, the craft of weaving as it was practiced in Brussels. There are psychological anachronisms: would a young woman in medieval times express her pent-up frustrations by cutting herself as some teenage girls do today? Yet the genuine drama Chevalier orchestrates as the weavers race to complete the tapestries, and the deft way she herself weaves together each separate story strand, results in a work of genuine power and beauty. And yes, readers will inevitably think about what a gorgeous movie this would make. (Jan.) Forecast: If any of Chevalier's novels has a chance to match the success of Girl with a Pearl Earring, it's this one. Expect it to rise fast on bestseller lists. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

'Tracy Chevalier gives the kiss of life to the historical novel.' Independent

Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring) has written another novel featuring a world-famous masterpiece. In this case, it's a series of woven panels called the Unicorn Tapestries, made in the late 15th century. Because nothing is known about the real artist, Chevalier creates one: Nicolas des Innocents, a coarse opportunist who is commissioned to do the artwork even though his specialty is painting miniatures of court ladies. Unfortunately for him, he becomes enamored of his patron's young daughter, Claude le Vista, who is determined to lose her virginity to him. A chorus of alternating characters each relate their part in the tapestry's creation and how it changed their life-for better or worse. Historical details, an intriguing plot, and captivating characters make this an enjoyable and rewarding experience. While some may wish the story had more meat, others will be more than satisfied with this literary delight. Recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/03; the film version of Girl with a Pearl Earring, starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson, will most likely increase demand for all of Chevalier's books.-Ed.]-Kellie Gillespie, City of Mesa Lib., AZ Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Adult/High School-This fanciful, engaging tale of the making of the famous unicorn tapestries is woven together as cleverly as the artworks themselves. Dynamic Nicolas des Innocents is proud of his skill as a painter and of his sexual prowess, and displays both at every opportunity. Always in need of funds, he persuades Jean Le Viste, a powerful Parisian nobleman, to commission a series of six tapestry designs of Nicolas's choosing: scenes focused on the unicorn, a fabled symbol of male virility and mysterious powers. Jean's pious wife colludes with the artist, as do her daughter and her lady-in-waiting. Nicolas courts them all. He journeys to Brussels, where his fate becomes intertwined with the family weaving the tapestries, but most of all their daughter, Alienor, whose blindness dooms her to betrothal to a brutish wool dyer. The "family" also includes the workers who assist them, one of whom, shy Philippe, secretly adores Alienor. The deadline for completion of the tapestries is moved up, and tension increases as all concentrate on the task. The major characters' reactions to their world-early 1490s France-are revealed, like the tapestries being woven, a little at a time. The French court and its aristocracy; Flemish weavers, their work ethic, and their powerful guild-all are delineated with the consummate skill Chevalier brought to Girl with a Pearl Earring (Dutton, 2000).-Molly Connally, Chantilly Regional Library, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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