27 July 2010

Review: The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier book coverThe inspiration behind this historical fiction novel is the very real set of medieval tapestries depicting the seduction of a unicorn currently on display in a Paris museum. This is my first novel by Tracy Chevalier and I was instantly captivated by the subject matter and wanted to know how the author would approach the subject, given there is little known about the creation of the magnificent tapestries.

The Lady and the Unicorn is a quick read, and very rich in period detail. The story begins in Paris in 1490 and moves to Brussels, where the tapestries are woven in a family owned business.

I was completely engrossed by the weaving process, and was amazed to learn just how difficult and time consuming tapestries were to make in medieval times. For example, I didn't know they were woven face down. One of the tapestries took 2 years to weave, which meant that it was 2 years before the workers could see their final creation. When it was finished and cut from the loom, it was then quickly rolled and locked in a wooden trunk to protect it from thieves and insects. Imagine all that work, and barely 5 minutes to look at the end creation.

There is much sex and sexual tension in the book and I enjoyed reading about the fate of several women, although I wasn't too fond of the womanizing artist.

The story was rich with drama and historical detail and I especially enjoyed reading about the fate of the tapestries after they had been completed and long after all characters in the book had passed away. Fascinating!

I thoroughly enjoyed The Lady and the Unicorn, and would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in weaving or who enjoys European historical fiction.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

Would you like to comment?

  1. Thank you for recommending this book. I really enjoyed it and also found the unusual topic of tapestries very interesting. To get an undertanding of the processes involved, from the dying of the wool, to the way the original paintings were enlarged by hand, was really fascinating. I certainly have a new appreciation of tapestries and the effort involved in these times. I enjoyed this story very much. Thanks again. Renae.

    1. I'm so happy you enjoyed this so much. I was really moved when they worked on the tapestry for 2 years (from the back) and only had precious moments to look at it before they had to roll it up and secure it for transport. Since reading this book I've been lucky enough to view medieval tapestries in London and I was fixated by the work involved. Incredible!


Thanks for your comment, Carpe Librum!