Excerpt from Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932

by Francine Prose

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose X
Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Apr 2014, 448 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2015, 448 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

From The Devil Drives: The Life of Lou Villars
By Nathalie Dunois

Author's Preface: The Mystery of Evil

I first heard the name of Louisianne Villars whispered when I was a girl, visiting my great-aunt Suzanne Dunois, the wife and later the widow of the photographer Gabor Tsenyi. I remember hearing Lou's name and feeling a chill, as if the winter wind had blown open the door of my great-aunt's enviable Paris apartment, an old-fashioned artist's studio with whitewashed walls, leaded windows, and a collection of modernist chairs that guests, especially children, were forbidden to sit on.

For many years, all I knew was that Lou Villars was the woman in a man's tuxedo in Gabor Tsenyi's photograph "Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932." Doubtless my readers are familiar with the portrait of the lesbian couple, the pretty girl in the sparkly gown sitting beside her broad-shouldered lover with pomaded hair and a man's pinky ring on her finger. Both stare into the middle distance, with unfocused expressions, unreadable—or so I thought, until I began my labors on this book.

I'd never understood why Lou Villars's name had so lowered the temperature in the room until I attended a 1998 show of Tsenyi's work, at the Centre Pompidou, to which I'd traveled from Rouen, where I had been living and teaching for almost twenty years.

The wall text for "Lovers at the Chameleon Club" explained that the woman in the tuxedo was a French auto racer named Louisianne Villars, who later spied for the Germans and collaborated with the Nazis. I shivered, just as I used to in my great-aunt's apartment. The chill lowered my defenses, and I caught a fever. A fever to understand. And so was planted the mutant seed that has grown into The Devil Drives, my message in a bottle.

Throughout this unexpectedly long and demanding project, it has been a source of profound exaltation and even deeper despair to immerse myself in the dramatic and terrible life of Lou Villars—a pioneer in the field of women's athletics, a woman who insisted on her right to live like a man, an international celebrity who knew everyone worth knowing, but who, because of the crimes of her later years, as well as her violent death, has completely vanished from the memory of the living. It has been a duty and a privilege to resurrect the spirit of a woman buried by a society determined that stories like hers go untold.

Even in the 1960s and 1970s, when young Frenchwomen like myself were exhuming every dead woman who ever picked up a paintbrush or conducted a science experiment or crossed a desert, everyone—even the female athletes entering the doors that Lou Villars kicked open for them decades before—even those women chose to let Lou remain forgotten in her unquiet, unmarked grave, possibly even a landfill.

The story of the writing of this book is a tale of unanswered doorbells and letters, of phone connections gone dead, of records mysteriously vanished from libraries and archives. And what other explanation can there be for these roadblocks and silences than our nation's sensitivity about its World War II record—its willful erasure of the shameful truth about our historic past?

How different this book would be if I'd had just one hour to sit down with Lou Villars and ask her, woman to woman, face-to-face: Who were you? What made you do what you did?

What I wouldn't give to speak with the people who knew her, to ask the living and the dead how one woman could have done so much harm: Gabor Tsenyi, whose art immortalized her; his patron, the baroness Lily de Rossignol, who hired Lou to race her family's cars; Eva "Yvonne" Nagy, who ran the famous Chameleon Club, where Lou got her start; Lionel Maine, the woman-hating blowhard American cult writer whom my feminist sisters have unsuccessfully tried to exorcise from the canon; the German auto racer Inge Wallser, who broke Lou's heart; Jean-Claude Bonnet, the infamous collaborator who destroyed so many innocent lives during the Occupation. Or for that matter my great-aunt, whose contact with Lou ranged from the friendly to the sadistic.

  • 1
  • 2

Excerpted from Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose Copyright © 2014 by Francine Prose. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Photographer Brassai

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Only Child
    Only Child
    by Rhiannon Navin
    Rhiannon Navin's debut novel, Only Child received an overall score of 4.8 out of 5 from BookBrowse ...
  • Book Jacket: Brass
    Brass
    by Xhenet Aliu
    In 1996, Waterbury, Connecticut is a town of abandoned brass mills. Eighteen-year-old Elsie ...
  • Book Jacket: Timekeepers
    Timekeepers
    by Simon Garfield
    If you can spare three minutes and 57 seconds, you can hear the driving, horse-gallop beat of Sade&#...
  • Book Jacket: How to Stop Time
    How to Stop Time
    by Matt Haig
    Tom Hazard, the protagonist of How to Stop Time, is afflicted with a condition of semi-immortality ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

A nuanced portrait of war, and of three women haunted by the past and the secrets they hold.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The French Girl
    by Lexie Elliott

    An exhilarating debut psychological suspense novel for fans of Fiona Barton and Ruth Ware.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Only Child
    by Rhiannon Navin

    A dazzling, tenderhearted debut about healing, family, and the exquisite wisdom of children.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Beartown

Now in Paperback!

From the author of a A Man Called Ove, a dazzling, profound novel about a small town with a big dream.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

T I M A Slip B C A L

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.