BookPage Fiction Top Pick, May 2014

Paris may be known as the City of Light, but in Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932, it serves as the backdrop for some of the darkest events of human history—and for an exhilarating new novel from writer Francine Prose.

Spanning several decades, Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 kicks off in the 1920s, just as the city takes its first tentative steps toward renewal following the devastation of World War I. Artists and dreamers flock to the decadent nightclubs that thrum at the heart of the city, like the Chameleon Club, where patrons strip off societal norms and slip on new skins to express their true selves. That is where Lou Villars—a cross-dressing lesbian based on the real-life figure Violette Morris—finds refuge with a ragtag band of misfits made up of a photographer, a writer, a baroness and a French tutor, each linked by various romantic entanglements. Through the letters, memoirs and manuscripts of this quartet, alongside an unpublished biography of Lou, readers learn the details of Lou’s tragic history, which culminates in her final role as traitor and Nazi collaborator. Together, this symphony of voices attempts to reconstruct Lou’s fall from grace and shed some light on the darkness that might drive a person to such evil. However, as more pieces of Lou’s story are revealed, it becomes clear that it is not just beauty that lies within the eye of the beholder, but sometimes truth itself.

With more than a dozen novels to her name—including the National Book Award finalist Blue Angel—and several volumes of nonfiction, Prose is no stranger to exploring both fact and fiction, but seldom before has there been a more perfect union of the two. Her narrative slyly points out the fickle nature of memory as well as the inherent unreliability of all storytelling. As Prose breathes new life into Paris of a bygone era, even history buffs may find themselves unsure just how much Prose is pulling from history rather than her own imagination. Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 is a remarkable work of fiction that feels completely true. Richly atmospheric and utterly engrossing, it is not to be missed.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Francine Prose about this book.

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