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Thursday, 10 March 2016

New and Notable: The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

Fifteen years in the making, Alexander Chee's The Queen of the Night is truly epic in scope. The story follows the life of protagonist Lilliet Berne on her journey from Midwestern orphan to 19th century Parisian Opera star, with a vast array of incarnations along the way, including courtesan, hippodrome rider in the circus, prostitute, seamstress, maid to the empress of France, and spy, to name but a few.

At the height of her fame, Lilliet is approached to play the lead role in a new opera, but when she reads the novel upon which it is to be based, she discovers that it is the story of her own salacious past. So begins Lilliet's quest to find who betrayed her secrets, and in the process the many mysteries and intrigues of her life are unraveled.

The novel shifts gears as frequently as Lilliet shifts identities, always with the high-level drama appropriate to its operatic subject matter. Though The Queen of the Night is decidedly a work of fiction, many real historical figures make cameo appearances. Indeed, the cover is graced by an early photograph of the Comtesse de Castiglione herself, who scandalized Europe in her time, and who plays a role in the novel.

At close to 600 pages, there is plenty of drama for fans of the Victorian picaresque to sink their teeth into. Ornate prose, meticulous detail, passionate and unceasing twists of fate make Linette's journey a mesmerizing one. Renowned authors Junot Diaz, Kelly Link, Hanya Yanagihara, Helen Oyeyemi have already been singing the praises of Chee's latest book, so why not join the chorus and get swept away by this period piece?

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