“The Queen of the Night” –Alexander Chee
Favorite Line: “When the earth opens up under your feet, be like a seed. Fall down; wait for the rain.”
I have waited a long time to read this book. When I first saw it as a pre-order it grasped my attention—it looked so Phantom of the Opera, I couldn’t resist. When I finally got around to it, I was not disappointed.
This book has magic on every page, disguised as the drama of being the star of Paris’ most beloved stage—the Opera.
The story follows the life of Lillet Berne, the girl who cannot die, cannot speak, but sings as if she were music herself incarnate.
Her voice, the voice she has cherished since her childhood in Minnesota, the voice she showed off upon horseback in the traveling European circus, the voice she hid away while being a maid to the Empresses during France’s most trying times, and the voice that captured more than one suitor and held them under it’s spell, it was not only her greatest joy, but it also may be her greatest curse.
The voice saved her life many times, but it also changed her, forced her to become a new person in an instant. This occurs not only on stage, but also in her life—forced to drop her identity in an instant and hide away, always afraid that her strongest asset will be her betrayer.
“A singer learned her roles for life – your repertoire was a library of fates held close, like the gowns in this closet, yours until your voice failed.”
The story begins well into her celebrity career when she is well known and loved in Paris. While at a party when a man approaches her with a business proposition—he has written a novel and he wants her to play the lead role in its Opera rendition. She is honored, of course, but soon turns to fear as she hears the book is about an orphaned girl who makes her debut in the circus and steals hearts by singing only single song, but then, without warning, disappears and is never heard of again. His novel, he claims, tells the rest of her story. Lilliet is stunned for this was her own story. What follows is the retelling of what happened to the orphan girl told alongside the tale of Lilliet trying to uncover the mystery of how this author found her and who betrayed her confidence.
The character of Lilliet Berne fascinated me and there wasn’t a moment I didn’t want to know the end, or even just the next part of her story. This novel was sewed together so perfectly that each individual chapter was as fascinating as the next, and each point of her life was as grand a story as the over all book.
She struggles through love—many false loves, but one, perhaps two, true ones. She made herself go from a penniless orphan to a spectacular woman who has the same dressmaker as royalty. Her transformation is unbelievable, and yet Alexander Chee writes in in such a way that while reader you have no doubt the story actually exists, buried in the French history books, waiting to be discovered.
Even with the fascination that lives on every page, this story is tragic—the pain and heartbreak Lilliet goes through makes you happy this story is actually fictional—but, of course, the book is about the drama of an actress, so really it couldn’t be anything less than completely dramatic.
So there you have it—love, hate, drama, and the Opera—the only thing better than reading the book would be watching it all play out before you on stage!
“And then she leaned back her head with the faintest smile and, tapping her chin, asked, Are you in love with him, this mystery composer? How can I be? I asked in return. I don’t even know him. Almost every opera is about this, she said, her smile growing. Love before first sight.”
This is Alexander Chee’s second novel. His first novel, “Edinburgh” won multiple awards and was listed as a Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year.