Friday, July 6, 2012

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier

(In which I was once again baffled by an artist.)


Usually, when people use a one-word description of artists, they would come up with something like weird, strange or eccentric. Interestingly, when one justifies his eccentricity and weirdness he would retaliate by saying he’s an artist, like what Ogie Alcasid did in his Manila Girl movie.
Nicolas des Innocents, however, has his own brand of ‘artistic’ qualities.

In Tracy Chevalier’s The Lady and the Unicorn, Nicolas is introduced as a cocky, conceited, handsome and lascivious miniaturist who was commissioned to do a tapestry design for Jean Le Viste. In the course of the story he is able to impregnate two women (whose children he never took responsibility of) through his winning story about the purifying power of the unicorn’s horn. You can, of course, go ahead and use your imagination.

But as an artist, he is gifted. Though people do not want to tell him that. Why, he does that himself! Before one can give out a sigh of admiration for his work, he would blurt out his ideas about how perfect he thinks his work is; and then the admirers would think better than letting their tongue boost his already colossal ego. So what they will tell him are the faults, which of course he won’t take, what with the perfection of his work and skill. Until he met the tapestry weavers.

If there’s one thing quite gripping about the novel, it’s actually not how talented Nicolas is as an artist, or how significant women in the novel are portrayed symbolically in the five tapestries narrating the seduction of the unicorn. It’s the marvelous transformation of one art to another emphasized by how readers can peep through every character’s mind to see how paint connects to thread. What remains after closing the book is definitely not whether Nicolas succeeds in seducing Jean Le Viste’s beautiful daughter Claude or if the unicorn tapestries made Nicolas and/or the de la Chapelle weavers famous, but the beautiful end product of the timeless virtue of hard work in achieving one’s seul desir. One desire.

Currently reading

The Lost Diary of Don Juan by Douglas Carlton Abrams

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