I’ve led a pretty blessed life. Lucky in family and friends, my only big unrequited “want” comes in the form of Mingo, the thousand pound horse I fell in love with when I was twelve. Always an imaginative child, I also believed in the mythical counterpart of my beloved palomino – that of the Unicorn.
Being a fan of historical fiction, along with my admitted interest in unicorns, when I found Tracy Chevalier’s The Lady and the Unicorn on sale at betterworldbooks.com (great site – cheap books, free shipping, and profits help fund literacy programs) I immediately added it to my overflowing digital shopping cart. Being a fan of Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, I planned to enjoy this novel about my mythical unicorn even more.
I was disappointed.
While an interesting look at the almost-noble family of Jean Le Viste – his miserable and unappreciated wife and their three daughters (Le Viste blames his wife for not bearing a son), the story lacks character development and interaction. Based on the real-life mystery surrounding the six Lady and the Unicorn tapestries that hang in the Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris (pictured above), this novel follows the imaginary artist Nicholas des Innocents in his seductions while his art is woven into tapestries.
The figure of the mythical unicorn is used as a tool in seduction, as des Innocents uses the supposed purifying powers of the horn to deflower and impregnate women. His true love and passion for Claude, the eldest daughter of Le Viste, can only show through his artwork, as they belong to different classes which were nontransferable in the the 15th century.
While rich in details of life in the 1490’s, especially when following the family of the weaver, it is hard to get too attached to any character. There are many minor players in the story, whose lives all manage to weave together (excuse the pun) throughout.
My biggest fault with this book is the lack of a satisfactory conclusion. Nicholas des Innocents is invited to a part at the Le Viste compound at which the tapestries will be unveiled. At this event, he and Claude have a quick rendezvous under the table before her arranged marriage is announced. The book comes to an end with a look at the unsatisfactory and unfulfilled lives of those we learned about throughout the story. I guess realistic, as not everyone ends up happy all the time, but it seemed to be an incredibly melancholy ending for an imagined tale.
Mediocre at best, this book left me wanting much more from the 250 pages read. Also, I wanted the unicorn to have a bigger impact, but that’s a personal complaint!
- NovelWhore’s Grade: C
- Title: The Lady and the Unicorn
- Author: Tracy Chevalier
- Publisher: Dutton Adult