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Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932

3.57 of 5 stars 3.57  ·  rating details  ·  2,393 ratings  ·  378 reviews
A richly imagined and stunningly inventive literary masterpiece of love, art, and betrayal, set in Paris from the late 1920s into the dark years of World War II, that explores the genesis of evil, the unforeseen consequences of love, and the ultimate unreliability of storytelling itself

Emerging from the austerity and deprivation of the Great War, Paris in the 1920s shimmer
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published April 22nd 2014 by Harper (first published 2014)
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  • Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose
    Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932
    Scandalized and celebrated by Parisian society, Lou Villars is an extraordinary athlete who is confident that one day she will be an inspiration for h…more
    Giveaway dates: Apr 14 - May 14, 2015
    5 copies available, 1145 people requesting
    Countries available: US
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    Community Reviews

    (showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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    May 04, 2014 Cheryl rated it 5 of 5 stars
    Recommends it for: readers who like villians: King's Carrie, Shakespeare's Iago, Highsmith's Tom Ripley
    Francine Prose's latest book goes beyond the expected for literary lovers of mystery, art, history, love and evil. Her additive to this conventional mixture is a lesson in storytelling through five narrators whose perceptions collide on events and memories fail with age.

    This fractured telling of Paris from the '20s to WWII, the Chameleon Club where cross-dressing lesbians, artists and expats find freedom of expression, and the outstanding athlete, racecar driver, Nazi collaborator and torturer o
    First, I recommend reading the author's Editorial Review, posted on the Amazon site, for some fascinating information -- Ripley's Believe It or Not fascinating. Francine Prose writes about an actual black and white photo she saw at an exhibition that served as the inspiration for this novel: "Lesbian Couple at Le Monocle, 1932", by famous Hungarian photographer Brassaï, taken at club Le Monocle in Montmartre, Paris. The provocative photo shows a pair of female lovers sharing a table, one dressed ...more
    Nov 18, 2014 Ruthie rated it 2 of 5 stars
    Shelves: 2014
    I really wanted to love this book, I really wanted to like this book, but it just didn't work for me. Too many narrators (reliable or not), too long, too repetitive, and often too boring. I was distracted by the "based on real people but not really" issue. Without a a Forward or an Afterward I found myself spending frustrating amounts of time trying to ascertain what was true, almost true and what was pure fiction. For some it may not matter, for me, when the subject matter is the Holocaust, the ...more
    Early on in Francine Prose’s richly imagined and intricately constructed tour de force, Yvonne – the proprietress of the Parisian Chameleon Club –tells a story about her pet lizard, Darius. “One night I was working out front. My friend, a German admiral whose name you would know, let himself into my office and put my darling Darius on my paisley shawl. He died, exhausted by the strain of turning all those colors.”

    History – and the people who compose it – is itself a chameleon, subject to multipl
    Jul 12, 2014 Abby rated it 4 of 5 stars
    Shelves: 2014
    In Francine Prose's popular book about reading and writing, Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, she advocates “close reading.” Only by slowing down and carefully reading every word can we understand what is said and what is not said – the nuances of meaning that the writer has worked so hard to put into every word and into the spaces between the words. That's good advice when reading any serious writer and of course when reading Prose. ( ...more
    Ron Charles
    Pssst. Looking for a good read? Check out the Chameleon Club in Montparnasse. Go alone — or with someone you trust. Step down a few stairs, knock on the door and whisper the password: “Police! Open up!”

    Welcome to “Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932.” Inside these smoky pages you’ll find an oasis of ribald humor, sexual transgression and military intrigue. Our host, Yvonne, is a Hungarian singer with a pet lizard and a weakness for sailors. Play nice and she’ll let you mingle with one of Eu
    switterbug (Betsey)
    The locus of Francine Prose’s sterling new book is the fictional Chameleon Club in Paris (Montparnasse), and even more specifically, a picture of two female lovers at the club taken in 1932 (the eponymous “Lovers at the Chameleon Club”) by Hungarian photographer Gabor Tsenyi, who resides in Paris. The story takes place primarily in the years leading up to and including WW II, although the shifting narrative perspectives also encompass contemporary time reflecting back to that period. Paris comes ...more
    Ayelet Waldman
    I swear I'm not being arrogant (I'm far too full of self-loathing for that) when I say that my World War 2 related book is simply better than this one.
    Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose is an extremely well-crafted book, ostensibly about a cross-dressing, gender fluid club in, you guessed it, Paris, 1932. The title comes from a photograph taken by one of the book's protagonist, Gabor. The story is only partially about gender issues in a time not very understanding but also about Hitler, the drive for submission, courage, art, and love in many different forms.

    I admired the book but didn't quite like it. I find Prose's to
    This complex litany of voices rewards the attentive reader with a multitude of perspectives on events that unfolded into the Occupation of Paris in WWII. By giving each of her selected main characters a voice in the first person, FP allows us to witness the moral trajectory of those under the particular pressure of the times, and the evolution, and the impact, of their choices.

    This is a difficult feat for a writer to pull off, the authorial voice often drowning out the various voices that would
    It took me a godawful number of days to finish this book, so I think it's safe to say The Lovers didn't exactly hook me. I don't think the book ever made up its mind what it was about - the degeneracy (or something) of pre-World War II Paris or about a resentful, unloved woman who wanted nothing more than to be (like) a man, or about the awesome French Resistance during WWII generally kicking Nazi and collaborators' asses. It's got some of everything, and nothing stands out.

    I would have given i
    Linda Robinson
    A review on goodreads advised not to skip the preface in the book. There is no preface in this book and I searched the web for what that bit might have contained. Perhaps the preface was an essay on the Mystery of Evil, perhaps it shared the true story of a woman formed, then forged by time and events. The mention of a missing preface about Evil set the stage in time for this book. 1934 in Paris, the American writer Lionel Maine describes the scene. "Unemployment, inflation, mass bankruptcy, imm ...more
    Robert B
    In the preface of Francine Prose's astonishing Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932, the author tells how a Brassai photograph, "Lesbian Couple at Le Monocle, 1932," inspired her novel about "art, love, evil, money, auto racing, espionage, insomnia, seduction and betrayal–and the way that history changes depending on who tells it." That sounds comprehensive and fascinating, but Lovers at the Chameleon Club is so much more: part loving critique of human frailty, part celebration of heroism, p ...more
    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
    Joe M
    I'm a sucker for this era and setting, so thanks HarperCollins and Goodreads for the review copy!

    (3.5 but I'm rounding up to 4) Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 is a bright and raucous novel, cleverly unveiled through a variety of voices, sources, and questionably reliable perspectives. There are letters home from the struggling photographer Gabor, the brooding dispatches of Lionel Maine, a bitter yet hilarious ex-pat, and the narratives of the rich and dazzling Baroness, matriarch of th
    Mary Lins
    I’ve been a fan of Francine Prose since reading her wonderful and witty novel, “Blue Angel”, many years ago. Her latest, “Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932” is magnificent; full of wonderful characters, unusually quirky settings, and strong (some more reliable than others) narrative voices.

    The novel proffers a unique WWII story told from various perspectives. Gabor Tsenyi is a young Hungarian photographer struggling to make a name for himself in the Parisian art scene. His patroness is Li
    Jan 06, 2015 Sara rated it 4 of 5 stars
    Shelves: 2015, glbt
    3.5 stars.

    Frustrating, ambitious, and well worth reading, albeit with some pretty serious caveats. I’m not sure why Prose chose an epistolary format as Lou’s dodgy biographer provides more than enough to dig into her turn toward the dark side. And maybe I just enjoy historical novels better when they unfold through minutia and build tension with small details. There's too little of this in the first 200 pages; nearly every single missive or diary entry is full of generic gushing for the wonder o
    Terri Jacobson
    This novel provided an incredible read for me. The story takes place in France during the 1920s, the 1930s, and the 1940s, the time when fascism was coming to the fore and taking over Europe. The characters are unusual and diverse. The story revolves around one character, Lou Villars, who is a cross-dressing lesbian. The other characters include a Hungarian photographer, a baroness, an American writer/reporter, and a woman who runs a nightclub called the Chameleon Club. This club attracts cross- ...more
    Prose’s book combines two of my favorite things—historical fiction is probably my favorite genre and I love the epistolary format, which lends an immediacy to her work. Prose’s main focus is on the character Lou Villars, a French lesbian athlete in Paris in the years after WW I, leading up to and including WW II. Her story is told in the form of a biography, supplemented by letters, journalistic essays and memoirs. I think more than any other book I’ve read about this tragic period of history, “ ...more
    Here's the thing - at the halfway mark, this book was going to get a five-star review. I loved the multiple-perspective storytelling. I loved the epistolary structure. And mostly, I loved the build-up to the promised struggles and horrors to come after the sparkling days of pre-WWII Paris. But then, I kept reading, and instead of a climax, I got an anti-climax instead.

    I don't know if Prose came up against a deadline or wrote herself into a corner, but what she was building up to just didn't del
    Lovers at the Chameleon Club excels as an experiment with the format of the novel. It's written as a sort-of biography of the first female French race car driver-turned-Nazi spy Lou Villars, and is constructed mainly out of the supposed source material for said biography: the letters, journal entries, and memoirs of her social circle, as well as some reflections by the biographer putting it all together. It's wildly inventive, and gives Prose a unique opportunity to examine Lou's story from the ...more
    Vaguely disappointing. The story was interesting, and the manner of telling it, from varied points of view, should have really sparked it. I mean, a chronically lovelorn and disappointed cross-dressing French patriot turned Nazi collaborator? With supporting characters that included a Brassai-like photographer of Paris' seamier side, a sexy but celibate countess, and a Henry Miller type literary rake who managed to cash in on his disappointment with the bright lights of late 1930s Paris, a neuro ...more
    Scott Worley
    Francine Prose could have gone any of a number of directions with this story, which is billed as being based off the life of Violette Morris but also covers a tumultuous era in Parisian history and art. Prose structures the novel brilliantly, shifting character viewpoints through fictionalized excerpts from journals, memoirs, essays, letters, and biographies. Each viewpoint challenges the reader to break through the ego of the characters and find the underlying truths hidden within their perspec ...more
    Sally Koslow
    Presented through diary entries, letters, memoir and biography chapters and newspaper articles, Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 retells the exploits of a circle of bohemian Parisians—and a few Nazis—linked by their connection to a tawdry nightclub featuring acts by cross-dressers. Francine Prose’s characters—the novel features about eight voices—are so artfully crafted you will be surprised to find, when you inevitably Google them, that they are drawn from her imagination and that this ...more
    Inspired by the portrait “Lesbian Couple at Le Monocle, 1931” taken by Hungarian photographer Brassai, Francine Prose takes poetic license to write this historical fiction novel. Prose uses real people to create her characters. In the novel, Gabor Tsenyi is based on Brassai’s life in Paris. Brassi did take portraits of the seedier side of nighttime Paris in addition to the High Society of Paris. Brassi became friends with American author Henry Miller who is loosely portrayed by the character Lio ...more
    Sometimes the story exceeds the abilities of the teller. Francine Prose is a talented writer, but her imaginative reconstruction of the life of the French bisexual athlete and traitor Violette Morris (renamed Lou Villars in the historical novel) is less successful than it could have been. Prose originally considered writing a biography of Morris but decided that a fictionalized account offered more possibilities. Despite the more or less accurate evocation of the Paris of the years leading up to ...more
    Vivian Valvano
    Exceptional novel - one of the very best I read this year. It's not an easy read; there are multiple narrators, all writing (letters, biographies, memoirs, journals, etc). Characters are intriguing and range from a transvestite French lesbian to a male Hungarian photographer/artiste with plenty of individuals in between. The multiple views of Paris and environs look back - particularly from the 1920s (don't let the 1932 of the title fool you; that's just one in a multitude of years; but the Cham ...more
    Marika Alexander
    This is an enjoyable book set in Paris right before, and during the Occupation. The central characters are Lou Villars, a cross-dressing lesbian, Gabor Tsenyi, a brilliant Hungarian photographer endearingly devoted to his parents, Baroness Lily de Rossignol, wealthy wife of Rossignol car manufacturers and patroness of the arts, the empathetic language-teacher Suzanne, Gabor's French girlfriend, Lionel Maine an insecure American writer, and Yvonne, the owner of the Chameleon Club where guests wer ...more
    Some nice turns of phrase, particularly about what it is to be a stranger in a foreign land, where everything is exotic and wondrous. I also felt the device of using various different sources to tell the story of Lou and the people of the Chameleon Club was interesting, the way the narrative overlay and shed light on one another, while still being independent.

    But historical fiction isn't my jam, and I have no real interest in WWII or that period so I can't say I found this one riveting. I never
    Received from Harper Collins in return for an honest review Having seen one or two lukewarm reviews of this book from some fellow bloggers, there were one or two moments when I wasn’t even sure I was going to bother reading this book at all. However, I am so very glad that I changed my mind and decided to judge for myself, I knew the book concerned a period and events that I love reading about – so I quickly skim read the preface before tossing it aside – and found myself hooked

    Francine Prose ha
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    Francine Prose (born in 1947 in Brooklyn, New York) is an American novelist. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1968, and received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1991. She has sat on the board of judges for the PEN/Newman's Own Award, and her novel Blue Angel, a satire about sexual harassment on college campuses, was a finalist for the National Book Award. She is now teaching at Bard College.

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    “It is the rarest of qualities: to feel something—anything—for someone beside yourself. And in my experience it is rarer still to have empathy for people you don’t know.” 1 likes
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