I read Tracy Chevalier’s other novel, The Girl with the Pearl Earring when I was in high school, so I figured I’d try another one of her novels. I didn’t like this one as much.
Chevalier likes to write about famous paintings like The Girl with a Pearl Earring and create a fictional backstory for the painting. In this case, she wrote about The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries from the 1490’s.
A French nobleman commissions Nicholas des Innocents to paint the designs for 6 luxurious tapestries. Nicholas is a self-serving bachelor, looking for pleasures only for himself. He is a great artist but morally, a terrible person. He tries to sleep with the nobleman’s daughter, but when he is caught by a lady in waiting named Beatrice, the daughter, Claude, is banished to the nunnery to keep herself a virgin until marriage. Nicholas goes to Brussels and meets with the cartoonist to enlarge the designs, and to meet the weaver family.
Georges de la Chapelle and his family work very hard to make sure the tapestries are finished in time. But when the French nobleman, Jean Le Viste moves up the due date of the tapestries, Georges must enlist his wife, Christine, to help weave, even though it is breaking the law. Meanwhile, Nicholas returns after many months and seduces their blind daughter, Aliénor to save her from having to marry a nasty man. After 2 years of 16 hour days of constant weaving, the Chapelle family finally finishs Le Viste’s tapestries.
The story is told from the point of view of several characters, a different one for each chapter. I thought this was an interesting way to tell a story, especially when I didn’t care for the main character, Nicholas des Innocents. My favorite was probably Aliénor. She is an innocent girl who was destined for the life of a dyer’s wife because she will never get a better offer due to her blindness. She ended up getting pregnant from Nicholas but the cartoonist, Philippe, offeres to marry her, because he always loved her. That was my favorite part of the book.
I thought the book was fairly descriptive in terms of describing the tapestries, but since I am a visual person, I wanted to see pictures of them rather than read about them. It’s hard to write about something that is meant to be experienced with our eyes.
I would recommend Girl with a Pearl Earring before this book.