The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I'm not really sure what to say about Alexander Chee's novel The Queen of the Night other than it is magnificent. A sprawling, epic tale that put me in mind of Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha, we follow Paris Opera sensation Lilliet Berne as she recounts her life from her humble beginnings as an orphaned American child, who tried to make her way to Europe to the only family she new of after the death of her family and ended up being swept up by one circumstance after another into the spectacle that was the Second French Empire. We follow her life from her time with a traveling circus, to becoming a prostitute in one of Paris' more prestigious whorehouses, to her time as a dresser for Empress Eugénie de Montijo at the Tuileries, until she finally makes her debut at the French Opera. Through this tale, she is trying to discover who might know of her secrets, as each time she took on a new role, she also cast off her old life and name and reinvented herself at each turn, trying to finally free herself from her own past and come into the life that she wants for herself.
Chee seems to have thoroughly researched his setting for Lillet's journey, and his writing is strong and precise. Lilliet's life is quite an adventure, but it never seems to be dull, and I never felt like I was wishing that her tale would hurry along. I listened to the audio version, and Lisa Flanagan's narration is spot on; she truly became the voice of Lilliet for me. The only thing that I added to my own listening of the book that I think could possibly benefit other readers is that I listened to selections of the operas and other musical pieces that are mentioned in the book, to add that next level of enjoyment to the story.
Chee is an extraordinary storyteller and I'll definitely be reading more by him in the future.
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April, 2020 - I think I'm going to shut From My Bookshelf down for a while; maybe for good. I've been putting this together for quite a few years now and it's starting to feel a bit more of a chore. I'll keep my Goodreads connected, but with the state of the world right now, I just want to read without worrying about making sure I post something about it. Who knows - when the world starts to make some semblance of sense again, I may start actively posting here again. Until then, as always, happy reading!