The Queen of the Night
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
February 2, 2016
also available as ebook
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
Une fois n’est pas coutume, this will be a challenging review. I requested this book, because the synopsis sounded so good (bravo to whoever wrote that synopsis, that’s an art!) and I REALLY wanted to love The Queen of the Night, and there are definitely some very good elements in it. But they did not manage to captivate me. Here is why:
I love Paris and French history.
This historical novel is mostly set in Paris at the end of the Second Empire and the beginning of the Third Republic (end of the 19th century).
Napoléon III and the Empress Eugénie are very important to the story, as well as Napoléon’s famous mistress, Countess of Castiglione, in the context of some spy mission. Remember, that period is also the time of the Franco-Prussian War. There are very good scenes recreating the ambiance of the times, especially in Les Tuileries and later during La Commune. Oh, even Madame de Pompadour is around!
I love the world of music and the opera.
The opera (also the circus) is central to the plot, with the heroine Lilliet Berne being a Falcon soprano, a rare type of voice. It is at one level an interesting reflection on the beauty and fragility of the human voice.
The novel was actually vaguely inspired by the life of Jenny Lind, a Swedish opera singer. According to the author, this work was “meant as a reinvention of the Mozart opera (The Magic Flute) as a novel” – and the different parts of the book are organized like acts of an opera.
There are fabulous descriptions of Gounod’s Faust and other operas by Verdi, Donizetti, Mozart, and Bizet, and many times I stopped reading to go listen again to some specific arias. I loved the way the author evoked voices and music – also pieces by Chopin.
This was how he’d always imagined operas, not as stages filled with women and men in wigs, but a storm, woods, a woman lost and in love singing somewhere in the dark.
Act V, chapter 6.
We meet the Verdi family, as well as Cora Pearl, Delsarte and Pauline Viardot-García. And le Palais Garnier, the Paris opera house, is being built!
There are also famous authors, such as George Sand and Turgenev (as well as indirect references to Nana by Zola), and many of these people evolve in the same world and know each other.
So all these elements were really neat.
And I thought the male author did a good job at putting himself into this woman’s shoes.
First, this is way too long! Being almost done reading In Search of Lost Time by Proust, you cannot accuse me of not being used to reading long books…
However, the writing needs to be superb to be enjoyable after even 400 pages. These days, a novel with 576 pages means the editor was not strict enough. I remember listening to an interview, and the author mentioned how her editor had her cut down the book by 200 pages. That would have been a good thing for this book.
I found the plot too complicated, not flowing, and I was often totally lost, not knowing where we were in the story, if we were in the present of the narration, in a flashback (there are many), if so to which period of the life of Lilliet, in her dreams, or in the pages of the book she was herself reading.
I only kept reading because I had requested the book and I enjoyed when the author was speaking about different arias. The last act is more straightforward and contains several twists that helped redeem somewhat my whole experience.
EN DEUX MOTS :
Histoire compliquée d’une chanteuse d’opéra à la fin du Second Empire. Le contexte historique est bien décrit et les éléments du monde de la musique, de l’opéra et du cirque sont superbes, mais on a du mal à s’y retrouver entre le passé de l’héroïne et ce qui lui arrive, entre sa vie et son oeuvre.
VERDICT: Beautiful rendition of the world of operas, but complicated and confusing plot in a very long novel. If you love operas however, you should definitely give it a try.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
Lilliet Berne is a sensation of the Paris Opera, a legendary soprano with every accolade except an original role, every singer’s chance at immortality. When one is finally offered to her, she realizes with alarm that the libretto is based on a hidden piece of her past. Only four could have betrayed her: one is dead, one loves her, one wants to own her. And one, she hopes, never thinks of her at all. As she mines her memories for clues, she recalls her life as an orphan who left the American frontier for Europe and was swept up into the glitzy, gritty world of Second Empire Paris. In order to survive, she transformed herself from hippodrome rider to courtesan, from empress’s maid to debut singer, all the while weaving a complicated web of romance, obligation, and political intrigue.
Featuring a cast of characters drawn from history, The Queen of the Night follows Lilliet as she moves ever closer to the truth behind the mysterious opera and the role that could secure her reputation — or destroy her with the secrets it reveals.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR