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Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  4,473 ratings  ·  644 reviews
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 shimmers with excitement, dissipation, and freedom. It is a place of intoxicating ambition, passion, art, and discontent, where louche jazz v
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published April 22nd 2014 by Harper (first published 2014)
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3.60  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,473 ratings  ·  644 reviews

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Apr 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: top-picks
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
May 13, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Jan 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
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
Jun 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
switterbug (Betsey)
Feb 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Roger Brunyate
Jul 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Entirely Coincidental?

This thoroughly entertaining novel carries the usual disclaimer: "Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental." A disingenuous disclaimer in this case, since the author admits that her source is a famous photograph, "Couple at the Monocle, Paris, 1932." Unfortunately, no doubt for copyright reasons, this is not reproduced in Prose's book, which instead has a garish cover that does the text no justice; this book is not neon but noir. This bein
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
Ayelet Waldman
Jun 24, 2014 rated it liked it
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.
May 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
May 08, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Suzanne Stroh
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Joe M
Apr 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc, read-in-2014, paris
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
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
Aug 17, 2014 rated it liked it
I wonder if even a master novelist like Prose can get tripped up when writing about a different time, especially one that many of us have fully imagined in our heads. The characters she creates are probably close enough to how these various types of people actually were, so I have no problem with her creating fake people to stand in for real ones -- and interact with real people of the time.

I am actually disappointed most when her characters talk. It's as if Prose, not knowing how these various
Dec 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, wwii, sexuality
This is not a comfortable novel to read at the present time. Despite the cover and title, it isn’t a romance at all. It is, in fact, a depiction of the creeping menace of fascism and how it encroaches on people’s lives. The structure of the narrative is interesting, as it consists of various documents in which each writer tells their own version of a single story. This story centres on Lou Villars, who is not given her own voice in the narrative. As the author’s afterword states, she is based qu ...more
Apr 24, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Robert Warren
Jun 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Mary Lins
Mar 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: complete
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
Linda Robinson
Jul 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
May 04, 2014 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Maybe more of a 3.5, but it was an impressive look at one of the most fascinating eras in Paris. Each perspective was unique and brought something new to the story, and though it was a bit slow, I enjoyed it! This may be the start of a tradition where I read books set in Paris every May...
Jan 29, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Jun 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 19, 2015 rated it liked it
Oh, Kerri Miller, you really sold me on this, and let me down. I love historical fiction, especially WWII. I heard an in-depth interview with F. Prose on MPR over a year ago and was immediately interested in reading this book. It sounded just incredible and unbelievable, yet based on true events. I got it on my kindle, intentionally, which is always an obstacle as I prefer paper pages. Is that what set me up for disappointment? I don't think so. I brought it on my trip to Machu Picchu, many long ...more
Sally Koslow
Jul 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Jessica Jeffers
Dec 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, netgalley
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
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
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
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Francine Prose is the author of twenty works of fiction. Her novel A Changed Man won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Blue Angel was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent works of nonfiction include the highly acclaimed Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. The recipient of numerous grants and honors, including ...more
“There are some people who remain your best friends even if you haven’t seen them for ages, and others with whom you start from scratch every time.” 5 likes
“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.” 4 likes
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