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 shimmers with excitement, dissipation, and freedom. It is a place 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 Hungarian 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 desperately in love and finds success as a race car driver. Gabor builds his reputation with startlingly 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 - sparked by tumultuous events - that will warp her earnest desire for love and approval into something far more.
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 ...
...the stories ensue with a medley of deliciously unreliable narrators told, by turns, in the unique voices of Yvonne and Gabor, of his patron, wealthy baroness Lily De Rossignol, of Lionel Maine, and of Gabor’s wife, Suzanne and her niece, Lou’s biographer. Honestly, Prose’s writing is so striking in its own chameleon-like ability to adjust to the diverse points of view and voices that that quality alone makes this a worthwhile read.
(Reviewed by Donna Chavez).
In Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932, Francine Prose bases the character Gabor Tsenyi on real life photographer Gyula Halász. Known by the pseudonym Brassai, Halasz was born in 1899 in the Transylvanian (later Hungary, now Romania) city of Brasso. His father was a university professor of French literature and their family spent some time living in France, where Brassai eventually emigrated in the 1920s in order to pursue a career as a journalist. He started taking photos as a way to supplement his freelance income.
While in Paris he lived in the famous Montparnasse quarter among such bohemian greats as Henry Miller, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Jean Genet. He eventually began to devote himself entirely to photography and ...
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