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Cover image for Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 : a novel
Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 : a novel

First edition.
New York : Harper, 2014.
Physical Description:
436 pages ; 24 cm
"A richly imagined and stunningly inventive story of love, art, and betrayal in Paris of the 20's, 30's, and 40's"-- Provided by publisher.
Conference Subject:


Call Number
Prose, F.

On Order



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. It is a city of intoxicating ambition, passion, art, and discontent, where louche jazz venues like the Chameleon Club draw expats, artists, libertines, and parvenus looking to indulge their true selves. It is at the Chameleon where the striking Lou Villars, an extraordinary athlete and scandalous cross-dressing lesbian, finds refuge among the club's loyal denizens, including the rising photographer Gabor Tsenyi, the socialite and art patron Baroness Lily de Rossignol, and the caustic American writer Lionel Maine.

As the years pass, their fortunes; and the world itself; evolve. Lou falls in love and finds success as a race car driver. Gabor builds his reputation with vivid and imaginative photographs, including a haunting portrait of Lou and her lover, which will resonate through all their lives. As the exuberant twenties give way to darker times, Lou experiences another metamorphosis that will warp her earnest desire for love and approval into something far more sinister: collaboration with the Nazis.

Told in a kaleidoscope of voices, Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 evokes this incandescent city with brio, humor, and intimacy. A brilliant work of fiction and a mesmerizing read, it is Francine Prose's finest novel yet.

Author Notes

Francine Prose was born on April 1, 1947. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1968. She received the PEN Translation Prize in 1988 and received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1991. Francine Prose novel The Glorious Ones, has been adapted into a musical with the same title by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. It ran at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center in New York City in the fall of 2007. Prose has served as president of PEN American Center, a New York City based literary society of writers, editors, and translators that works to advance literature in 2007 and 2008.

Prose novel, Blue Angel, a satire about sexual harassment on college campuses, was a finalist for the National Book Award. One of her novels, Household Saints, was adapted for a movie by Nancy Savoca. In 2014 her title Lovers at the Chameleon Club - Paris 1932, made The New York Times Best Seller List.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Prose's 21st novel (after The Turning) captures the brilliance of Paris's bohemian art scene in the '20s and '30s, as well as the dark days that followed. Louisianne "Lou" Villars, a talented athlete, travels to Paris as a teenager, hoping to someday compete in the Olympics, but instead she ends up checking coats at the Chameleon Club, famed around the city for its gender-defying patrons and cabaret. Lou's real-life model is Violette Morris, a cross-dressing professional race car driver turned Nazi spy, immortalized in Brassai's iconic photograph, Lesbian Couple at le Monocle, 1932. The novel follows Lou as she falls in and out of love, becomes a professional race car driver, and dines with the Fuhrer in Berlin. This story is told piecemeal through the frequently unreliable and self-serving recollections of Lou's friends-among them the visionary and egotistical photographer Gabor Tsenyi; Lily de Rossignol, Gabor and Lou's benefactress; and Nathalie Dunois, Lou's biographer. The novel skillfully portrays the headiness of Parisian cafes, where artists and writers came together to talk and cadge free drinks, and the terror of the Nazi Occupation. Though the momentum lags at times, Prose deftly demonstrates with a wink the self-seeking nature of memory and the way we portray our past. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

A tour de force of character, point of view and especially atmosphere, Prose's latest takes place in Paris from the late 1920s till the end of World War II. The primary locus of action is the Chameleon Club, a cabaret where entertainment edges toward the kinky. Presiding most nights is Eva "Yvonne" Nagy, a Hungarian chanteuse and mistress of the revels. The name of the club is not strictly metaphorical, for Yvonne has a pet lizard, but the cabaret is also famous as a place where Le Tout-Paris can gather and cross-dress, and homosexual lovers can be entertained there with some degree of privacy. One of the most fascinating denizens of the club is Lou Villars, in her youth an astounding athlete and in her adulthood a dancer (with her lover Arlette) at the club and even later a race car driver and eventually a German spy in Paris during the Occupation. Villars and Arlette are the subjects of what becomes the era's iconic photograph, one that gives the novel its title. This image is taken by Hungarian photographer Gabor Tsenyi, eventual lover (and later husband) of sexual athlete Suzanne Dunois. Tsenyi is also a protg of Baroness Lily de Rossignol, former Hollywood actress, now married to the gay Baron de Rossignol, the fabulously wealthy owner of a French car manufacturing company. Within this multilayered web of characters, Prose manages to give almost every character a voice, ranging from Tsenyi's eager letters home to his parents, excerpts from a putative biography of Lou Villars (supposedly written by Suzanne's great-niece) entitled The Devil Drives: The Life of Lou Villars, Lily de Rossignol's memoirs and further reminiscences by Lionel Maine, Suzanne's lover before she was "stolen away" by the photographer. Brilliant and dazzling Prose.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Artistically and intellectually adventurous, Prose presents a house-of-mirrors historical novel built around a famous photograph by Brassai of two women at a table in a Paris nightclub. The one wearing a tuxedo is athlete, race-car driver, and Nazi collaborator Violette Morris. So intriguing and disturbing is her story, Prose considered writing a biography, but instead she forged an electrifying union of fact and fiction by creating a circle of witnesses and chroniclers of varying degrees of reliability. Gabor, a Hungarian photographer enthralled by Paris after dark, photographs two weary lovers: Arlette, an opportunistic performer, and Lou Villars, a tux-clad athlete. The women are regulars at the Chameleon Club, a safe haven for lesbians, gays, cross-dressers, and others who must change their stripes to survive. We glean the many facets and repercussions of Lou's dramatic and terrible life via Gabor's surprisingly explicit letters to his parents, an unpublished biography, works by an American writer in Paris, and the memoirs of two rivals for Gabor's love, a young teacher and a lonely baroness. In an intricately patterned, ever-morphing, lavishly well-informed plot spanning the French countryside and reaching to Berlin, Prose intensifies our depth perception of that time of epic aberration and mesmerizing evil as she portrays complex, besieged individuals struggling to become their true selves. A dark and glorious tour de force. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Destined to be a breakout book, Prose's novel will be promoted with an eight-city author tour, a major media campaign, and library and book-club outreach.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2014 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

IN THE KINGDOM OF ICE: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, by Hampton Sides. (Anchor, $16.95.) In June 1881, two years into its Arctic expedition, the U.S.S. Jeannette's hull was crushed by ice, forcing the commander, George Washington De Long (1844-81), and his 32-man crew to abandon ship 1,000 miles north of Siberia. Sides's first-rate narrative recounts the horrors (crude amputations, madness, starvation) in the crew's desperate struggle to survive. LOVERS AT THE CHAMELEON CLUB, PARIS 1932, by Francine Prose. (Harper Perennial, $15.99.) Told in a kaleidoscope of voices and inspired by a 1932 Brassai photograph of a lesbian couple at a Paris nightclub, Prose's novel of love, cross-dressing and espionage centers on a French cabaret performer and racecar driver who betrays her country to the Nazis. JOHN WAYNE: The Life and Legend, by Scott Eyman. (Simon & Schuster, $18.) More than one of Hollywood's most famous actors, Wayne (1907-79) was, and still is, a symbol of America itself: strong, forthright, ready to defend the homestead. Eyman goes behind the screen persona to reveal a man who was exuberant, guileless, even strangely innocent. THE VACATIONERS, by Emma Straub. (Riverhead, $16.) Straub's novel follows a well-heeled Manhattan family, the Posts, and their friends on a two-week vacation in Majorca. It's supposed to be a time of celebration - there's a 35th wedding anniversary, for starters - but their idyll is upended as secrets and rivalries come to light. "For those unable to jet off to a Spanish island this summer, reading 'The Vacationers' may be the next-best thing," Margo Rabb said in the Book Review. SUPREME CITY: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America, by Donald L. Miller. (Simon & Schuster, $19.99.) This entertaining history is led by an astonishing cast of characters, including Walter Chrysler and Duke Ellington, who helped turn 1920s New York into the world capital of culture and commerce. In SO WE READ ON: How "The Great Gatsby" Came to Be and Why It Endures (Back Bay/Little, Brown, $16), Maureen Corrigan offers fresh perspectives on the Jazz Age novel's debt to noir and its profound commentaries on themes of race, class and gender. COLORLESS TSUKURU TAZAKI AND HIS YEARS OF PILGRIMAGE, by Haruki Murakami. Translated by Philip Gabriel. (Vintage International, $15.95.) "I've always seen myself as an empty person, lacking color and identity," says Murakami's forlorn hero, a 36-year-old engineer in Tokyo who embarks on a series of reunions in the hopes of understanding why his tight-knit circle of high school friends suddenly shunned him years earlier. HOTEL FLORIDA: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War, by Amanda Vaill. (Picador, $20.) Against the backdrop of a critical moment in history, Vaill traces the tangled wartime destinies of three couples: the bright young photographers Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, the writers Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, and the devoted press officers Arturo Barea and Ilsa Kulcsar. ?

Library Journal Review

What's most striking about this latest work from Prose (Blue Angel) is how effectively she weaves together the stories of more than a half dozen characters to tell the larger picture of France (and, indeed, Europe) between the World Wars while reflecting on the nature of evil and the limits of biography (and biographical fiction). In these pages we meet Gabor, a Hungarian photographer modeled on Brassai, who is friends with blustery, self-absorbed American novelist Lionel Maine (obviously Hemingway) and whose patron is Baroness Lily de Rossignol, a former actress with an affecting backstory and a hint of Peggy Guggenheim. Gabor's love (once Lionel's) is the hearty and charming Suzanne Dunois, reputedly the subject of a biography drawn from her memoirs by a great-niece. The protagonists are brought together at Paris's steamy, anything-goes Chameleon Club, where they cross paths with the linchpin character, Lou Villars, a cross-dressing lesbian who finds shelter at the club and goes on to a skewed career as a performer, racing-car driver, and, shockingly, supporter of National Socialism. At first a smoothly unrolling tapestry, the novel deepens as it portrays a society careening toward war. VERDICT Both entertaining and reflective for any reader of fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 11/3/13.]-Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.