Ninja Books

a new home for readers on the web


            The Lady and the Unicorn
            Tracy Chevalier
            fiction, historical
            Reviewed by: Breanne Siska
            Review posted: 7/29/04

            Readers might recognize Tracy Chevalier as having recently penned "Girl With A Pearl Earring," a fictional account of the story behind the Vermeer painting of the same title as the book. The book was turned into a movie that, while being a feast for the eyes, left out a lot of the details Chevalier adds to recreate the world of the story. In "The Lady and the Unicorn," Chevalier again has done her homework on the book's setting. Taking place in France between 1490 and 1492, "The Lady and the Unicorn" follows the creation of a set of actually existing tapestries that tell the story of a Lady seducing a unicorn. The story is told in the first person, changing perspectives from one character to another as the chapters progress. There is the cocky painter hired to design the tapestries, the commissioning nobleman's daughter that is in love with the painter, her mother that must protect her rebellious daughter's maidenhead until she's properly married, then there are several members of the family of weavers that did the work on the tapestries.

            Much of the book reads like an educational piece, as the process of how a tapestry is created is given nearly if not as much importance as the characters in the story. I found it rather informative, cause heck, I didn't know how tapestries were made. The book also lets the reader know what people's lifestyles were back then, what men and women faced depending on their lot in life. Since the story features both nobles and more lower-class artisans, it was a nice contrast from other stories that might feature upperclass since that's where more historical knowledge is based on.

            I suppose my one semi-gripe about the book is the perspective change at every new chapter. That's the problem with First Person Perspective: the perspective needs to be where the action is. If your action starts taking place in multiple locations, or action continues after the character's perspective has left that location, then the author needs to switch to someone else to tell the story. Even Third Person Perspective works best when it focuses on only one or two main characters. This story has seven perspectives in about twice as many chapters. That means, in an already short-ish book (250 pages), there's less time to flesh out the characters, and some become flat and formulaic. There was only one character that was unique and gained any amount of empathy from me. I was actually happy to revisit her perspective.

            That's not to say that the story isn't compelling. There's a sense of urgency surrounding the tapestries' creation, for there are high stakes involved. It kept me involved, and I did want to keep on reading this book, although it's not something I'll probably ever read again. If you liked Chevalier's "Girl With A Pearl Earring," you'll probably enjoy this book as well.