Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932
by Francine Prose

Overview -

A richly imagined and stunningly inventive literary masterpiece of love, art, and betrayal, exploring the genesis of evil, the unforeseen consequences of love, and the ultimate unreliability of storytelling itself

Paris in the 1920s. 

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

A richly imagined and stunningly inventive literary masterpiece of love, art, and betrayal, exploring the genesis of evil, the unforeseen consequences of love, and the ultimate unreliability of storytelling itself

Paris in the 1920s. It is a city of intoxicating ambition, passion, art, and discontent, where louche jazz venues like the Chameleon Club draw expats, artists, libertines, and parvenus looking to indulge their true selves. It is at the Chameleon where the striking Lou Villars, an extraordinary athlete and scandalous cross-dressing lesbian, finds refuge among the club's loyal denizens, including the rising photographer Gabor Tsenyi, the socialite and art patron Baroness Lily de Rossignol, and the caustic American writer Lionel Maine.

As the years pass, their fortunes and the world itself evolve. Lou falls in love and finds success as a race car driver. Gabor builds his reputation with vivid and imaginative photographs, including a haunting portrait of Lou and her lover, which will resonate through all their lives. As the exuberant twenties give way to darker times, Lou experiences another metamorphosis that will warp her earnest desire for love and approval into something far more sinister: collaboration with the Nazis.

Told in a kaleidoscope of voices, Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 evokes this incandescent city with brio, humor, and intimacy. A brilliant work of fiction and a mesmerizing read, it is Francine Prose's finest novel yet."

  • ISBN-13: 9780061713781
  • ISBN-10: 0061713783
  • Publisher: HarperTorch
  • Publish Date: April 2014
  • Page Count: 436

Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Historical - General
Books > Fiction > Literary
Books > Fiction > Biographical

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2014-02-17
  • Reviewer: Staff

Prose’s 21st novel (after The Turning) captures the brilliance of Paris’s bohemian art scene in the ’20s and ’30s, as well as the dark days that followed. Louisianne “Lou” Villars, a talented athlete, travels to Paris as a teenager, hoping to someday compete in the Olympics, but instead she ends up checking coats at the Chameleon Club, famed around the city for its gender-defying patrons and cabaret. Lou’s real-life model is Violette Morris, a cross-dressing professional race car driver turned Nazi spy, immortalized in Brassaï’s iconic photograph, Lesbian Couple at le Monocle, 1932. The novel follows Lou as she falls in and out of love, becomes a professional race car driver, and dines with the Führer in Berlin. This story is told piecemeal through the frequently unreliable and self-serving recollections of Lou’s friends—among them the visionary and egotistical photographer Gabor Tsenyi; Lily de Rossignol, Gabor and Lou’s benefactress; and Nathalie Dunois, Lou’s biographer. The novel skillfully portrays the headiness of Parisian cafes, where artists and writers came together to talk and cadge free drinks, and the terror of the Nazi Occupation. Though the momentum lags at times, Prose deftly demonstrates with a wink the self-seeking nature of memory and the way we portray our past. (May)

BookPage Reviews

In thrall to the City of Light

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.

BAM Customer Reviews