Lovers at the Chameleon Club: Paris 1932
by Francine Prose
read by Edoardo Ballerini, Rosalind Ashford, Geoffrey Cantor, Nicola Barber, Suzanne Toren, Maggi-Meg Reed
2014 / 448 pages
rating: 8.75 / contemp lit
Some interesting things about the book I wanted to investigate – (I do NOT criticize Prose for invention – I just note things to research for my own info.)
Lou Vallers – so much is accurate:
But giving Lou a mentally ill brother is fabricated – I think probably to illicit the sympathy of the reader. ??? – Then we see Lou with a broken heart and become even more sympathetic. Because that’s the point – how can such good people do such bad things? And this is definitely for the 21st century reader because WWII readers didn’t have quite the same acceptance of lesbians – note the dress code in France – I couldn’t find evidence of that but I wouldn’t be surprised.
Other historical stuff:
The Chameleon Club is based on Le Monocle – a well known lesbian bar in Paris between the 1920s and ’40s. Brassai took many photos there.
Gabor Tsenyi, the Hungarian photographer is a take-off on the life of BrassaÏ – who really did shoot the photo of the couple at Le Monocle. Brassaï also knew and photographed Henry Miller – in the book Henry Miller is “played by” Lionel Maine. In the novel, Maine publishes a book on the day of riots in Paris –
The owner of the Chameleon Club, Yvonne (aka “Eva Nagy”), was modeled on the real owner of Le Monocle, Lulu de Montparnasse.
Lulu was portrayed in the French film Les Amants de Montparnasse by an actress named Arlette Poirier. See Wiki re the film.
Arlette leaves Lou for Clovis Chanac, the fascist-sympathizing prefect of the Parisian police, who then went after Lou. The historical prefect of Paris between 1927 and 1934, Jean Chiappe, bears striking similarities, especially in popularity and politics.
From NPR comes a sad review but I have to point out a couple things:
“The narrators of Francine Prose’s novel Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 are not to be trusted. In describing the life of Lou Villars, French racecar driver, cross dresser and Gestapo torturer, Prose tells a complex story about the malleability of truth when everybody is a collaborator.”
“After the war, everybody says they worked for the Resistance.”
Police Chief Chanac (not quite Chiappe?)
Women in the Resistance: