From a press release:
Malaprop’s presents Francine Prose, May 8
Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe Presents Francine Prose on Thursday, May 8th at 7pm reading & signing her new novel Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932. Open to the public.
Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 (Harper $26.99), the masterfully orchestrated new novel from New York Times bestselling author Francine Prose, holds history and biography up to a prism, mercilessly refracting their unreliable “truths.” A spellbinding story that exquisitely recreates the Paris demimonde of the 1930s as it heedlessly thunders toward the Second World War, the novel is told from multiple points of view, each narrative offering its own imperfect version of events. “The result is a perfect stunner,” says Joshua Ferris, author of And Then We Came to the End, “the novel-as-a Picasso, or a kaleidoscope–vivid, fractured, and spellbinding. And the backdrop to it all: Paris, its squalor and romance. Prose is one of our sharpest critics and our most daring novelists, and this is her best book.” At the center of this peerless work of fiction is Louisianne Villars, an enigmatic Frenchwoman who openly dresses as a man and loves other women. From a parochial childhood marked by neglect, Lou’s life takes an unconventional trajectory–athlete, nightclub performer, racecar driver, and, ultimately, Hitler disciple and Nazi collaborator during the Occupation. It is while performing at the Chameleon Club, a vortex of Paris high society, Bohemians, and the sexually ambivalent, that Lou and her opportunistic girlfriend, Arlette, are hired to pose for the rising star Hungarian photographer, Gabor Tsenyi. The photo, “Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932,” featuring the mannish Lou clad in a tuxedo and Arlette in a beautiful party dress, perfectly encapsulates the outre spirit of an era poised on the edge of the precipice of history. It will shadow Lou as she travels beyond the nightclub into her dark future.
It is through Baroness Lily de Rossignol, an erstwhile Hollywood actress and patron of Gabor, that Lou moves onto the next chapter as an accomplished woman racecar driver. Her scandalous past associations lead to the revocation of her license, but not before she gains the attention of the Fuhrer in Berlin, who will exploit her celebrity and simplistic devotion to the cause of the Reich. Duped by her latest lover, the seductive German racecar driver Inge Wallser, Lou will come to spy on her own beloved France, and is later manipulated into even more heinous acts for the Nazis.
The roots of Lou’s treasonable choices and her underlying motives remain elusive. Her story unfolds in a seemingly straightforward manner in the chapters of a biography reconstructed by an obsessive schoolteacher, Nathalie Dunois, who claims a familial connection to the events. But other voices tell different versions, each bearing witness and calling into question the truths asserted by others. Gabor writes curiously self-accommodating letters home to his adoring parents back in Budapest. The Baroness recounts events in her memoirs with the benefit–or perhaps revisions–of hindsight. Chapters from the autobiographical novels of American Lionel Maine highlight the sex and alcohol-infused Paris highlife that has become legend, masking a more nefarious reality. And Suzanne Dunois, Gabor’s future wife (and Lionel’s erstwhile lover) offers unvarnished recollections of the Resistance as it works against the Occupation–recounting a series of events that will bring all the stories together in a murky confluence.
Inspired by real people and events, Francine Prose has taken the raw material of history and transformed it into a literary tour de force about love, art, betrayal, and the ultimately unknowable truth. “Lovers at the Chameleon Club is a reading experience like none other I’ve ever had,” says Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia, “it’s a shimmering library of possible truths and forking pathways, an anthology of lies and secrets, of self-deceit and self-indictment, complicity and resistance, myriad tales of glorious transgression, a single book grand enough to house memoirs that were supposed to be destroyed, invisible photographs, war documents, fake essays, biographies-in-progress and an epistolary bildungsroman….Readers of this extraordinary novel become Villars’s co-biographers, piecing through ‘official’ and underground accounts as ample (and as unreliable) as the human library of memory.”