The Lady in the Unicorn is Tracy Chevalier s fourth novel. She is the author of the best selling (and recently a major motion picture) Girl with a Pearl Earring . Tracy Chevalier seems to write the same sort of novel each time, but because the subjects are different, the ways the novels play out are different. The technique that Chevalier uses is that she takes a painting that I presume she likes (or is just interested in). She learns as much of the backstory of the painting as possible and then writes a fictional novel about how this painting came about and who the artist and subjects are. In the two Chevalier novels I have read now, this has turned out to be much more interesting than it may at first sound.

The story in The Lady and the Unicorn is set in 15th Century Paris and Brussels. Nicolas des Innocents has been commissioned to create a set of tapestries for a minor member of the French nobility Jean Le Viste. This seems simple enough: Commission, Paint, Weave, Complete. What sets this novel apart is in the telling. Nicolas is a talented artist, but rather arrogant about his art. He mainly paints miniatures in great detail and has never had to design a tapestry (it takes a different sort of skill to design a tapestry). But Nicolas is also a lusty man. Months prior he had impregnated a maid at Le Viste s estate and this time he has his eye on a young woman named Claude. It also seems that Claude has her eye on Nicolas. There wouldn t be any trouble (or much) if it didn t turn out that Claude is Jean Le Viste s eldest daughter and heir to the estate. Now any tryst must be secret, but Claude s mother knows something is afoot so she works to keep them apart so Claude may keep her virginity and be an eligible bride with the estate as a dowry.

The scene later shifts to the weavers who will actually make the tapestries. Nicolas defies all custom and is personally involved in nearly all aspects of the making of the tapestries. He is no less lusty now that he is away from Claude, but we get to see more of his character as this section of the novel progresses. Throughout the novel we see how Nicolas s inspiration for the tapestry evolves and why he is creating the tapestries quite the way that he is. We get glimpses into the lives of the weavers, Nicolas, as well as Claude. This novel is told with multiple narrators in such a way that the shift in narration feels appropriate and smooth and these shifts serve to better advance the story and keep it moving along.

The opening of The Lady and the Unicorn felt a little crude with Nicolas s crass sexual interest in Claude, but as the novel wore on there became fewer crass lines and everything felt natural. For a novel about tapestries (but really about relationships), this one was fairly fast paced. Considering the quality of both Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Lady and the Unicorn , I think I m going to have to give Chevalier s other two novels a try. This one was well worth the read.