Picks and Pans Review: The Lady and the Unicorn

UPDATED 01/12/2004 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 01/12/2004 at 01:00 AM EST

by Tracy Chevalier

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Fans of Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring, the 2000 bestseller and now a movie, will no doubt enjoy her new book. Once again Chevalier takes a famous piece of art—in this case the unicorn tapestries at the Musée Nationale de Moyen Age in Paris—and imagines the social and emotional realities of its creation in rich period detail. Chevalier meticulously describes weaving techniques, wool dyes and guild rules. But the new novel lacks the psychological tautness of Girl, which zeroed in on the relationship between the artist and his model. Lady ranges over abroad cast of characters, not all of them likable: a Paris nobleman, his pious wife, a rebellious daughter and the philandering painter who tries to seduce her while also wooing the weaver's daughter. But to use a comparison that Chevalier invokes a bit too often, if the earlier book was like an oil painting, this one is more like a tapestry: flatter and without the piercing immediacy of a Dutch master.

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