It was interesting to learn how tapestries were made. I have never given thought to the months or even years of work involved. On her website, Chevalier has included images of the tapestries that inspired the novel. They are beautiful. I think I have seen a reproduction of at least one of them before.
This novel is different from The Virgin Blue in that it is set entirely in the past — the late Middle Ages (1490-1492). The Virgin Blue is set in two times: the present and 400 years in the past. I will say that I think Chevalier does her research well. She carefully renders her setting so you know you are in the past without letting it overwhelm the plot. That’s not easy to do — I allowed myself to get carried away describing the setting in my own book. It’s hard, because on the one hand, you want to prove that the characters are really in the past, so you show the reader — look, see this detail? On the other, all the reader really needs is a feeling and his/her imagination can do the rest.
I absolutely detested one of the main characters, Nicolas des Innocents. I thought him a lecherous rake who cared nothing for anyone but himself. He was a preening peacock of a man. I couldn’t feel badly for him at all when he suffered disappointments. In fact, I found myself feeling glad and thinking it served him right. Actually, I didn’t like many of the characters. The weaving family in Brussels were probably my favorite characters. I liked Aliénor, but that was because she was strong and intelligent without being snotty. I think that Claude was snotty, and I honestly didn’t feel sorry for her when she was disappointed either. Regina Marler’s Amazon review makes it sound like the reader might actually root for Nicolas and Claude: “Their passion is impossible for their world — so forbidden, given their class differences, that its only avenue of expression turns out to be those magnificent tapestries.” In truth, I couldn’t see that there was much passion between them — at least not any more than Nicolas showed toward every other female who crossed his path. If it had been requited, Nicolas would have discovered, I think, that he didn’t care any more for Claude than he did the multitude of other women he had sex with. Ultimately, the main characters in this story are the tapestries themselves. I found myself wanting to read on to see how they fared. The weavers worked at a frenzied pace to finish on time. I didn’t feel Jean Le Viste appreciated the work that went into them at all. If anyone did, I think it might have been Léon Le Vieux, who worked with Jean Le Viste on the commission, even though he never outwardly expressed appreciation for them. I don’t know why, but that’s the feeling I get.
I would read another book by Chevalier. Her writing is very good. Very well researched. I don’t know why she doesn’t make her characters more sympathetic. It is a good writer who gives her characters flaws to make them human and accessible. But I think she takes it a little too far. Her characters have too many warts to make me love them. I didn’t feel this way about most of the characters in The Virgin Blue. I’m willing to give Girl with a Pearl Earring a try.
Addendum (7:35 P.M.): I have just realized where I’ve seen the tapestries in this book before. They decorate the Gryffindor Common Room in the Harry Potter movies. I’m kicking myself for not picking that out right away. Oh well.