Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932, by Francine Prose

I picked up the advanced reader's copy of this book with some trepidation, though the premise intrigued me: "Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932" is built around a famous photograph of a lesbian couple at a nightclub known for its boundary-pushing clientele, and was taken by a young Hungarian photographer. The picture can be seen at Sorry for the website gibberish. Prose doesn't just write a novel, she uses several different invented mediums to tell a fascinating story. The book centers on Lou Villars, a champion race car driver and butch lesbian who becomes an informant and torturer for the German occupiers of France during World War II (yes, I've read of lot of WWII books lately, I think I'll hold off on more of those for a while). We read from a biography of Lou written by the grand-niece of an acquaintance of hers; we read letters from the photographer sent to his devoted parents back in Hungary; we read from published and unpublished memoirs of ex-pat writers and French industrialists. All of these people circle around Lou in some fashion, and each has a distinctive voice.

Prose's accomplishment is incredible. I had thought of her as sort of a thinking woman's chick lit writer, but this book proves me very wrong (and I'm not sure how I even came to that assumption in the first place). Her writing is hilarious in many places, poignant in others, and she demonstrates a remarkable ability for concocting many different voices convincingly. It really makes you think about what convolutions a person's brain will twist into in order to justify his or her actions, and whether evil is really so simple a concept as it seems. I was enthralled by this book, and am left with a sincere desire to read her previous works as well.


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