sarah

The Lady and the Unicorn: A Novel

The Lady and the Unicorn - Tracy Chevalier I wanted to give this book 1½ stars, but rounded down to 1. I disliked the main character, the tapestry painter Nicolas des Innocents, by page 10, but I assumed that the author would have him grow and change as a person by the end of the book -- presumably through the process of creating the remarkable tapestries that inspired the novel. Sure, it's an obvious and almost cliché plot, but I don't need a crazy original plot in order to enjoy a book. Disappointed! He is still a pig at the end of the story (that's my spoiler, btw).There are two young women in the book: Claude, who is the daughter of the nobleman who commissioned the titular tapestries, and who is grumpy and horny and apparently would rather fool around with the slimy Nicolas des Innocents than have any worthwhile future; and Aliénor, the blind weaver's daughter, who is going to be married off to a disgusting brute whose smell literally makes her gag. Both of them have fathers who don't care about them or undervalue them, and mothers who basically care more about their virginity than their happiness. I know life was very bad for women in the 15th century. But when I pick up a book set in that time, I expect the author to have worked around that problem and given me some way to live with the disgusting attitudes and expectations that the characters face. Again, I was disappointed here. This passage, in which the Claude's mother Geneviève de Nanterre has just discovered that Claude has been fooling around with the despicable Nicolas, gives you all you need to know about the inner life of the women in this book:I gritted my teeth. Claude knows only too well how valuable her maidenhead is to the Le Vistes -- she must be intact for a worthy man to marry her. Her husband will inherit the Le Viste wealth one day, if not the name. The house on the rue du Four, the Château d'Arcy, the furniture, the jewels, even the tapestries Jean is having made -- all will go to Claude's husband. Jean will have chosen him carefully, and the husband in turn will expect Claude to be pious, respectful, admired, and a virgin, of course. If her father had caught her...I shivered.Of course it would be anachronistic for Chevalier to have written women who could be self-aware or expect anything other than the treatment they got, but to reduce the whole plot to the worst aspects of their lives -- not just their subjugation to men or the reduction of their value to just whether or not they are pure, but also the ruination of unwanted pregnancy and complete lack of education other than religious study -- was just depressing. And it wasn't enlightening-depressing, like My Jim: A Novel, because it was bodice-rippy enough that I think we were supposed to be titillated and amused by all the bawdiness even as it ruined or threatened to ruin almost every female character in the novel. And contrasting the oppressive atmosphere that controlled literally every moment of Claude's life was the gallingly self-centred Nicolas, who waltzed through the novel with complete liberty, consuming women for his own pleasure and then leaving them (and their children) behind once they have served his purpose. Wow, I really hated this book! Forget the half star, this was just a 1.