jeudi 7 août 2014

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose

Paris, the 1920s. A place of excitement, dissolution and liberty. A place of ambitions, passions, art in every form, where the discontented of the world over come to find freedom. In the centre of this world lies the Chameleon Club, where expats, artists and libertines rub shoulders with extraordinary athletes, journalists and cross dressers. Into this world come a group of people whose lives will come together for a time before breaking apart in the horror of the Second World War. Centered on Lou Villars, a former runner and racecar driver who becomes a Nazi interrogator, these sometimes lovers, sometimes friends, sometimes enemies see their fortunes rise and fall. From the Hungarian photographer Gabor Tsenyi, to the America writer Lionel Maine, these characters live and breathe through the heights of the 20s, the despairs of the 30s and the darkness of the Occupation.

Told through a kaleidoscope of voices – letters, diaries, memoirs and a non-fiction work – Lovers at the Chameleon Club is a truly epic work, providing a sweeping vision of a city and a world that came to an end in the fires of the Second World War. While the plot comes to revolve around the character of Lou Villars, who begins her life as an athlete before becoming a racecar driver, a mechanic, a spy and finally a torturer, all of the characters have their own stories and lives. Showing the effect that one person can have on so many lives, Lovers at the Chameleon Club also deals with the unreliability of narrators, as each and every one is shown at some point to have exaggerated, hidden or even outright lied about the truth. Where the book truly excels, though, is in the creation of the Paris of the 20s and 30s, and especially the portrayal of the Chameleon Club itself. Prose does a fantastic job of describing this world on the cusp of such brutal change. She also manages to give each narrator their own individual voice, passing the story from one to the other with aplomb. Though far from being an action-packed thriller, the pages turn by themselves, and I got to the end of it before I had realized it. With a surprise twist in the final chapter, which puts everything else into a new light, the novel is a triumphant depiction of an intriguing period of history, told through the eyes of some fantastically drawn characters. 

I gave Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 4,5 stars.  

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