Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier

Correspondence from February 2004:

I’ve read another book that I wouldn’t recommend: The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier (author of The Girl with the Pearl Earring). I liked it better than The Red Tent and it did make me want to go back to the Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris to see the series of unicorn tapestries there again. Some parts of the book were good. I liked reading about places I recognized in Paris. I learned a lot about the making of tapestries and feel I’ll have a deeper appreciation of them next time I see some. I also enjoyed the shifting points of view -- there are about 7 different narrators.

It needed a better editor, unfortunately. Some sentences don’t make sense, like “I would like my hands to be soft as the rose petals these Ladies in the tapestries must soak theirs in.” Also, Nicolas tells us “I bowed so low my head throbbed. It never hurt to bow low.” Well, which is it? Throbbing or not hurting? I understand what the author means to say about subservience being useful to a poor artist, but I think it is an unfortunate combination of sentences.

There’s a line “Birds finding their mates indeed” which has absolutely no relation to anything said previously, although later in the betrothal feast (of Claude to a young nobleman), pairs of large birds are served for the meal. Either something was cut out or paragraphs were shifted without taking this reference to mating birds into account.

Some characters behave inexplicably. The 14-year-old love interest, Claude, is sucking on a clove because she has a toothache, yet she laughs and skips and teases Nicolas, the painter commissioned to design the tapestries. (Why not have Claude sucking on a clove later in the story, when she stays home sick and the rest of her family goes out? The author could still show off her knowledge of medieval remedies and the toothache would play a believable part in the plot.) Claude also refers to her mother as “my mistress” the first time we meet her, when neither the reader nor Nicolas know that she is a daughter of the house. Every other time, she calls her mother “maman”, yet there is no other indication that Claude purposely misled Nicolas into thinking she is a servant.

I’m guessing you aren’t going to read The Lady and the Unicorn, but if you do, don’t read this last paragraph coming up.

Most inexplicable is why the lady-in-waiting, Beatrice, would marry Nicolas. The reader is given to understand that Claude’s mother and Beatrice together conspire to this wedding arrangement in order to punish both Nicolas and Claude for their previous indiscretion. Beatrice has shown no interest in Nicolas, neither has he to her, and she knows he is a womanizer who cares not a fig for the bastard babies he fathers. And that is how the story ends.


Arlene said...

I've read Girl with a Pearl Earring and loved it, so much so that I did (what I would call) quite extensive research immediately after I finished it (I don't normally do that) to find out which details in the book were true. While I've wanted to read The Lady and the Unicorn for a while, I've never been able to find the time. I might think twice now. I listened to The Red Tent rather than reading it and suspect that is part of the reason why I enjoyed it. Had I read it instead of listening to it, I doubt I would have enjoyed it as much. arlene

Lindy said...

Girl With a Pearl Earring was much better than The Lady and the Unicorn.