A richly imagined and stunningly inventive literary masterpiece of love, art, and betrayal, exploring the genesis of evil, the unforeseen consequences of love, and the ultimate unreliability of storytelling itself.
Paris in the 1920s shimmers with excitement, dissipation, and freedom. It is a place of intoxicating ambition, passion, art, and discontent, where louche jazz venues like the Chameleon Club draw expats, artists, libertines, and parvenus looking to indulge their true selves. It is at the Chameleon where the striking Lou Villars, an extraordinary athlete and scandalous cross-dressing lesbian, finds refuge among the club’s loyal denizens, including the rising Hungarian photographer Gabor Tsenyi, the socialite and art patron Baroness Lily de Rossignol; and the caustic American writer Lionel Maine.
As the years pass, their fortunes—and the world itself—evolve. Lou falls desperately in love and finds success as a race car driver. Gabor builds his reputation with startlingly vivid and imaginative photographs, including a haunting portrait of Lou and her lover, which will resonate through all their lives. As the exuberant twenties give way to darker times, Lou experiences another metamorphosis—sparked by tumultuous events—that will warp her earnest desire for love and approval into something far more.
Prose's 21st novel (after The Turning) captures the brilliance of Paris's bohemian art scene in the '20s and '30s, as well as the dark days that followed. Louisianne "Lou" Villars, a talented athlete, travels to Paris as a teenager, hoping to someday compete in the Olympics, but instead she ends up checking coats at the Chameleon Club, famed around the city for its gender-defying patrons and cabaret. Lou's real-life model is Violette Morris, a cross-dressing professional race car driver turned Nazi spy, immortalized in Brassa 's iconic photograph, Lesbian Couple at le Monocle, 1932. The novel follows Lou as she falls in and out of love, becomes a professional race car driver, and dines with the F hrer in Berlin. This story is told piecemeal through the frequently unreliable and self-serving recollections of Lou's friends among them the visionary and egotistical photographer Gabor Tsenyi; Lily de Rossignol, Gabor and Lou's benefactress; and Nathalie Dunois, Lou's biographer. The novel skillfully portrays the headiness of Parisian cafes, where artists and writers came together to talk and cadge free drinks, and the terror of the Nazi Occupation. Though the momentum lags at times, Prose deftly demonstrates with a wink the self-seeking nature of memory and the way we portray our past.