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review 2017-11-28 17:01
I should have fallen in love.....
The Queen of the Night - Alexander Chee

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee is one of those books that I should have fell in love with from the opening pages. From the synopsis it sounded to me like most everything I love about historical fiction. Sadly, I was disappointed.

Lilliet Berne is a famous Paris opera singer with a checked past. She has survived untold hardships to arrive at the place she is today. There are only a few people who know the whole truth of who Lilliet really is, a sum total of four, and it seems one of them is out to expose her. She knows this because a new opera has been written just for her, the crowning glory for an opera singer, and her life is the story. All her secrets will be exposed to the world.

Who would do this? As Lilliet works to find the answer to who the perpetrator is, she narrates her life for the benefit of the reader starting as a young girl growing up on a farm in Minnesota. Then how she tragically becomes an orphan and ends up in New York where she is hired as an equestrian acrobat and tours Europe which leads to being a courtesan and a spy, among other things, before her career as an opera singer even began.

The story suffered from several problems. First, the plot felt a bit over worked for my tastes. I like complex plots, when they make sense, but here it felt like the author was trying too hard. I think less would have been more here. Second, I never got the sense that I really understood Lilliet. The reader was told why she did what she did, etc. Yet, I never felt a deep connect to her and I missed that, badly. Then there were times the pace was so slow I struggled to get through it. I lost count of the number of times I had to just quit reading and pick up something else.

On to the good things, the writing was noteworthy. I love thoughtful descriptive prose and I got that here. I also liked the character of Lilliet, even though I was not totally taken with her.  The author did a superb job of intertwining the real historical facts with the fiction. The overworked plot aside, over all I liked the story. It is unfortunate that the bad over shadowed the good.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy in a giveaway.

Source: www.thespineview.com/genre/fiction/the-queen-of-the-night-by-alexander-chee
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review 2016-08-09 23:40
What am I reading?
The Queen of the Night - Alexander Chee

This book was taking me too long to read because the writing was too complex. There are no quotation marks so it's hard to tell what is spoken. And I spent so much time trying to decipher the writing that I didn't retain a word. I spent 3 hours reading this and only made 50 pages.

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text 2016-08-09 00:27
Reading progress update: I've read 23 out of 553 pages.
The Queen of the Night - Alexander Chee

From some of the books I have read lately, I am seeing I should have taken French instead of Spanish back in the day.

 

And what is with this new trend of not using quotation marks when writing speech? It makes it incredibly hard to tell what is thought and what is spoken. I was an English minor in college, and this sort of language blasphemy makes me recoil almost as much as hearing someone say "conversate".

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text 2016-06-28 23:17
A book for the opera nerd in my heart
The Queen of the Night - Alexander Chee

Thanks to this epic novel, and its author, Alexander Chee I have had every aria mentioned in this book stuck in my head for weeks. Right now I can't get Carmen's Habanera out of my head, which is kind of annoying since I know the tune, but not the words.

If I was being completely honest with myself I would give this book only four stars: the story gets a little confusing, and at times seems a little too much, and I hate HATE that there are no quotations marks. If this were a book about an ordinary topic I might demote it a star for these minor issues. However, this is a novel about no ordinary topic, it is a novel about opera, which at its perfection is a little confusing, and a little too much.

I love that someone has created a novel about opera, especially opera in the 19th century, when it was one of the only forms of entertainment. Since I grew up near Santa Fe I have developed a love for the opera that has surprised myself. Alexander Chee obviously has done a lot of work and research into it, and I appreciate the way he folded the stories of the great operas into this story of a woman with many names and disguises, whose adventures takes her from Midwest America to New York City, to Paris, to Germany, and back again. The descriptions of the clothes, and the people were amazing.

What I liked most about the book was that it focused so much on women, and the ways they survived despite their different classes, backgrounds, educations, and talents. In the pantheon of great male composers and writers of the 1800s it is easy to overlook the equally great women who not only mastered music and writing, but who were kind enough to encourage the men in their lives to do the same. George Sand, and Pauline Viardot were strong examples of this, and I enjoyed reading their fictionalized characters in this novel.

I was truly inspired to learn more about all the characters in this novel. I had never heard of Empress Eugenie, but I am obsessed with her portraits now. I had never heard of the Comtesse di Castiglione, and now I can't stop Googling and Pinning images of her in her knockout clothes. I can't believe how modern she looks, like she's got a million followers on Instagram. I recommend reading this with the ability to search for pictures of the real-life characters as you go, and the ability to stream every piece of music mentioned in this book. Listening to Chopin's nocturne as Pauline Viardot plays it in the book was haunting.

Writing a story about a woman who is determined only the survive on her terms was refreshing. Although Lilliet Berne understands the way she is trapped in her life, she makes the best of what she has. She is neither overly naive, nor overly aggressive. I would like to think I would acted like she did under those circumstances. When she makes mistakes she lives with the consequences, but her mind never seems to let go of trying to make it better. Sometimes going through life is about the ballast. How do we maintain balance to keep the boat from tipping over? The woman who becomes Lilliet Berne understand this. I wish more characters in novels did.

It is for these reasons that I give this book 5+ stars. Thanks for finally finishing it, Mr. Chee. It was well worth the wait.

 

A list of things I Googled/Pinterested/Interlibrary Loaned/listened to:

 

Comtesse de Castiglione
Pauline Viardot
George Sand
Chopin
Lucia di Lammermore by Donizetti
Operas by Viardot and Turgenev
Il Trovatore by Verdi
Norma by Faust
Liszt (composer)
Empress Eugenie
Fall of Napoleon III empire
La Sonnambula by Bellini

 

And score!!!  Lucia Di Lammermore will be performed at Santa Fe Opera for their 2017 season!  I've got my tickets already!

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review 2016-05-22 23:21
Bravo for The Queen of the Night
The Queen of the Night - Alexander Chee

With a story about an opera singer, whose secret past has suddenly shown up as the subject of a new opera, it's no surprise that The Queen of the Night is, well, operatic in scope and feel.

 

A massive story, epic in scale, traversing continents, surviving sieges, and mired in political intrigue and conspiracy, this book lifts readers up to dizzying passions and plunges them to the lowest depths. All very theatrically, of course. I was enchanted with the story of Lilliet, the mute orphan with the fragile yet potent singing voice of a falcon soprano.

The mystery of who is putting on this opera, who can possibly know her secrets, is a slender one, yet provides the perfect way into her past–a past she may have thought herself free of but which continues to trap her in its web.

 

The prose is dense, grandiose, and gorgeous, befitting its lofty milieu. While I did think that the last third could have been cut back a bit, and I wish the romance had been handled a bit more definitively, I couldn't put it down. Apparently Chee spent a decade researching and writing this and it shows in the detailed care of everything from court gossip to gowns to historical fact and knowledge of opera and the operatic world.

Bravo, Mr. Chee.

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