Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose

Lovers-at-the-chameleon-club, Paris-1932Sometimes I just don’t know how to start a review, so I will just jump in with both feet. I was not thrilled with Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932. Was it because I generally really like the author, Francine Prose? Was it because I expected amazing things out of this complex novel about the years leading up to the Second World War in Paris? Was it because I wanted this novel to be so different than anything else i’ve read? I don’t really know.

The story of Lovers at the Chameleon Club is a little difficult to summarize due to the way it is told. It can best be described as epistolary; it is comprised of letters, biography excerpts, magazine articles and the like. In general, I like this kind of thing. The problem in this case was that I didn’t get a good feel for any of the characters.

This shouldn’t be the case when the main characters, in theory, should walk off the page. Gabor is a budding photographer with severe attachment to his parents who he has not seen in years. Lou is a cross dressing race car driver, turned spy. Both surround themselves with an amusing cast of characters who frequent the Chameleon Club, a bar for freaks and weirdos.

I must admit Lovers at the Chameleon Club did start to grow on me a little more about two thirds of the way through. In particular, Lou’s naive forays into espionage and later enemy interrogation were interesting. And I am a sucker for anything that has to with the French Resistance in WWII, so the smuggling of artists and intellectuals out of France intrigued me. But overall, while not being a complete fail, I would only give this book a 3/5.

Who would like this book? I read this book along side Half Blood Blues and the two share much in common. Both take place in the club scene in Paris at the outbreak of World War II. For that reason, readers interested in that period and scene may be interested in Lovers at the Chameleon Club. The portions of the novel dealing with the Berlin Olympics and Hitler’s use of athletic clubs were quite fascinating and insightful as well.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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10 Comments

  1. You’re so right about how the characters SHOULD walk off the page…maybe that’s what left me so dismayed? I feel like I just kept waiting for more from them and by the time I finally got it, I was so disconnected from the book I didn’t really care.

    On the other hand, if a book is brilliantly written or has some other hook, I can deal with characters that are a little two-dimensional…but I think the format really took away from the writing in this case because none of it really stood out to me.

  2. It’s interesting how so many epistolary novels can be so revealing of character as you are getting one person’s perspective in their letters, and others are more impersonal. It’s too bad this one falls into the latter category.
    I completely understand how the book probably wasn’t bad, but because you already like the author, you expect more from them. Not every book in an good author’s oeuvre can be fantastic, but damn we’d should sure like it if they were. -Tania

  3. I have a review copy of this – which I am hoping I’ll get around to in the next few weeks. I have skim read your review and see you were not all that keen, oh dear, now I am nervous of reading my own copy.

  4. My review of this book will be up tomorrow – I hope you’ll check it out! I really loved this book and the original way in which it was told – but I’ve been hearing similar complaints from others about the characters feeling distant. I guess I didn’t mind that because Prose’s storytelling voice was so very present. As a narrator, she was a character in and of herself and all I needed to guide me through the book.

  5. Pingback: Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan | 52 books or bust

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