Tracy Chevalier,
The Lady & the Unicorn
(Dutton, 2004)

Nicholas des Innocents was surprised to find himself charged with designing a tapestry grand enough for the hall of Jean le Viste, one of the most important men of the late 1400s. Nicholas could not have imagined that what began as a dull commission for a battle scene would turn into the most important work of his career: The Lady & the Unicorn.

Though the novel follows the story of this famous tapestry's creation, it is evident that the true story of Tracy Chevalier's The Lady & the Unicorn lies in Nicholas' evolving perceptions of women. He is renowned at court for his insightful portraits of ladies, yet retains the opinion that all women are the same until he is faced with the challenge laid down by Le Viste and his household. Through the making of the tapestry, the artist begins to realize that to a woman, seduction isn't only about the "unicorn" or his horn. He is forced to question whether the ladies in the tapestry, whom he made powerful seductresses, are real. Initially, Nicholas believed they portrayed women he knew, but throughout the book his perception of them alters. He understands that in a world dominated by men, no maiden may have sex without changing everything she is. Can any woman, even a seductress, truly obtain her sole desire, control over her own life, outside of the paradise of the tapestry?

Chevalier's astute sense of balance masterfully combines the lives of several characters to shape one world, laid out like a tapestry for her audience to explore. A master of subtlety, Chevalier manages to weave her tales thoroughly and neatly together, while still allowing her readers to reach their own conclusion about their overall meaning. This lack of resolution may leave a sense of dissatisfaction for some, but the story behind it is well worth the read.

[ visit the author's website ]

review by
Whitney Mallenby

15 September 2007

what's new