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Showing 1-10 of 135 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 216 reviews
on April 26, 2014
I love this quote. In many ways it encapsulates the enmeshed stories of the characters struggling in Nazi dominated France. The genius of these stories is its success in capturing the inevitable interaction of the personal with the decisions of the much larger political and moral war. The Chameleon Club had cast itself as the home of the alienated and the independent. Through its doors the denizens of radically different philosophies mix in a studied decadence. But it is their views of each other that reveal the souls that each hides.

A unifying character is Lou, the woman twisted by the expectations of others but ultimately most comfortable in the life of a man and the lover of women. How did she become a deadly Nazi collaborator. How did the somewhat whiney photographer, Gabor, move from his pursuit of fame into an artist with a conscious? Most important, it is clear that we still will never know the truth.

While I found the setting compelling, the plot can wander into the long winded. As I noted, I found Gabor almost unbearable at the start of the novel, and for that matter unbelievable at the end. In attempting to specify the ambiguities facing the characters, sometimes too much detail is spun. Nonetheless, I found this to be a book with much to commend it. I think the truth that none of us knows all our own secrets is well documented in a fascinating trope.
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on January 17, 2016
I really enjoyed Lovers at the Chameleon Club. It tells a fictionalized version of a true story - proving once again that truth is stranger than fiction. Lou Villars (real-life Violette Morris) is a talented athlete and, later, race car driver who has her profession taken away from her when she is denied the chance to compete because of her cross dressing. (Napoleonic law allowed women to wear no more than 4 pieces of men's clothing.) The story is told by multiple characters which makes for a bit of an unreliable narrator scenario. Whose version of the truth is the real one?

I highly recommend looking up the photographs of Brassai who is also fictionalized in the book. His black and white photos of Paris at night in the 30s are haunting.
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on June 7, 2015
A beautifully written journey into the public and private lives of prewar and postwar era Europe and the struggles of society's closeted homosexual men and women. Her heterosexual characters are spellbinding as well. The construction of these narratives is very nearly perfect.
The writer's ability to draw the reader into each character's life, and her genius at defining and describing and breathing life into the populations of her stories is mesmerizing. It is hard to put this book down, even overnight,
Read this remarkable work as soon as you can.
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on March 30, 2015
An interesting historical fiction set in Paris between the two World Wars. Unfortunately, the focus of this multi-character novel was (fictional, though based on a real person) Lou Villars, who was unsympathetic and uninteresting. I wanted to spend more time at the Chamelion Club, not with Lou and her many life missteps. Also, the book was too long, 100 fewer pages would have made the stories more compelling. Overall, well written and it kept my interest.
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on August 30, 2014
I found this piece of fine literature to be an absolute page turner. At the same time that I am focusing on writing my own memoir, I found myself opening this book every free second, and in the middle of the night (for hours); not only interrupting my sleep pattern but taking time away from my own writing. There is nothing in this review that doesn't contain spoilers already present in the editorial reviews of the book. It is the story, from the raging 20's to the end of WWII, of primarily a cross-dressing lesbian who went from being a professional athlete, to a race car driver, to a spy that told the Germans how to bypass the entire French line of defense in the WWII invasion of France, to a torturer for the Gestapo. Her ending is disclosed to the reader early on, and the bulk of the book enticingly shows you how she arrived at that end. At the same time, it is the story of a fascinating chorus of characters: a Henry Miller type author, a successful photographer and the two women who loved him (a teacher and a Baroness with oodles of cash). The readers goes with the characters throughout Paris, from mingling with homeless under a bridge, to a glittering society dinner for 40 in the 20's, to sitting beside Hitler at a full state banquent before the Berlin Olympics, to the torture chambers in the basement of Gestapo headquarters in France, and moreover roams all over France. This, and a completely different tale, "A Soldier In The Great War", rank among the two best books I have read in years.
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on October 11, 2014
This book carried me through the dreams and anxieties of a host of characters surrounding the German occupation of Paris during World War II. Francine Prose deftly weaves the psyche of antagonists and protagonists in such a way that insight is gained into the motivation of all, and the innocence of the protagonist is lost while sympathy with antagonists is earned, yet never siding with the historically condemned Nazis and their pawns. Great reading!
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on June 20, 2014
I knew nothing of this writer before I read this book, intrigued by a review giving the unconventional topic. It's a story told from various points of view, those of a handful of equally unconventional characters, resulting in deeper understanding of the complexities of the main characters as well as insight into what it was like to live there then. I was especially interested in the main character, a lesbian cross-dresser who became a well-known race car driver and a dupe of Hitler' and the Gestapo. I may not read another book by this author but this is a gem of a novel, one I will keep to reread in future.
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on January 21, 2016
Good picture of artists and their subjects in Paris pre WWII and during WWII. Excellent portrayals of the life styles of Paris night club clientele who frequented the popular bisexual and bawdy venues. Each chapter is written as viewed by the different characters in the book but the main theme is concerned with the development of a female racing car driver, her thwarted olympic aspirations and later transformation into a Gestapo spy and violent torturer.
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on May 31, 2014
I think that the author must have enlisted her most faithful friends to write the blurbs on the back of the dust jacket, telling prospective readers all the things that the author no doubt wanted her book to be. But it is none of those things--not vivid, not spellbinding, not daring, etc. etc.

It's not at all like Rashomon, which tells us the same story from different points of view and with startlingly different details and endings. The various tellers of this tale are all part of the same dull narrative; there is here no "shimmering library of possible truths and forking pathways." Nobody's narrative conflicts in any important way with anyone else's except for Suzanne's denunciation of Lou's biographer in the final chapters. No, the multiple points of view simply provide the author with an easy way to tell the story, much easier than constructing a complex novel with a single omniscient narrative voice. No glimmer of Tolstoy here. And the multiple points of view provide excuses for everything that is lame or lacking in the novel. For example, Gabor's letters home serve mainly to feed information to the reader. Isn't it convenient that he has parents to whom he can write even the most intimate details of his life? The main failing though is the writer's inability to make her main character interesting in the least. She even invents a bad writer with her own personal problems to handle that very important part of the book. So we get, for instance, that interminable, boring, horribly badly-written chapter when Lou meets Hitler and is immediately in total awe of him and ready to do his every bidding. No explanation, no analysis, no reason behind any of it.

I could go on and on, but the book isn't worth it. I made myself finish the it, but I also promised myself that I would never again push myself to finish a book that is so obviously wasting my precious time.

Just a few minor questions before I continue the quest for something worth reading: Why does Suzanne want her memoirs destroyed after her death? Obviously she wants others to read them, or why write them at all? Why does Ducky have to sing his coded messages? Why not just find an occasion to talk to the person he wants to communicate with? And finally, who is the fictional editor of all these excerpts? Who supposedly collected and put all these sections of others' books together in this way? If you're going to attempt to create a fictional universe, there has to be a fictional force behind it all, seems to me. (Like Nabokov, just for instance, in his masterpieces. And Ms. Prose has the gall to use as epigram a quotation of Nabokov's!).

Oh, Nabokov! Oh, Humanity!
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on June 17, 2017
Not historical enough, easy read, would have loved if Violette Morris was given greater depth. It is sad the writer agreeably made her a monster rather than develop on more of how she actually was as a person in a positive light. There is always good behind the evil, of which I would have liked to hear more about. It only shed the depressing side of Violette.(Lou)
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