Thursday, May 8, 2014

"I so look forward to recommending this book." ~Pete
I'm a big fan of Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood, which later became a stage musical and eventually the film Cabaret. Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932, a novel by Francine Prose, takes place in roughly the same era but different city. The depression lingers, the Germans are threatening, but at the Chameleon Club you can be whatever you want to be. A budding photographer takes the picture of a sultry woman with her lesbian lover who dresses as a man in a tuxedo. But who are these women really, and what becomes of them when Paris becomes occupied by the Germans in 1940?

The story is told from several points of view including the photographer's letters home, from a struggling American writer (think Henry Miller), from a biographer interested in the story of Lou Villars, the woman who wanted to dress as a man (not so easy in those days) but ended up as a tool for the Gestapo, and from a wealthy baroness, who married a homosexual automaker but is in love with the photographer who snapped the photo 'Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932' (or, by its real life name: Lesbian Couple at Le Monocle, 1932).

Not only was this is novel a joy to read, but it's also based on true events. Like me, you'll probably want to see who the real Lou was, and was that really Henry Miller sitting at a bar with Picasso? You'll no doubt want to learn about the photographer in question ( in real life, Brassai) and view the much discussed photographs. They're quite beautiful.

I so look forward to recommending this book. From the titular photograph, it's hard to have an opinion one way or another about Lou Villars. All she wanted to do was dress like a man. But maybe there was something else lurking in her heart, or maybe it's more likely that she had no heart at all.


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