The Evolution of Evil: Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose


Growing up in interwar France, Lou Villars is a misfit. When she’s shipped off to receive a convent education she begins to come into her own as a person, but not the feminine, demure, and obedient kind the nuns expect. Lou excels at sports–she becomes a race car driver–and later she dresses in men’s clothing. Her outsider status propels her to make choices that will have disastrous consequences for those around her who struggle against creeping fascism and the Nazi occupation.

Though based on a true story, it is not a well known one. What made Lovers one of my favorite novels of 2014 was Prose’s careful crafting of characters and her smart use of alternating viewpoints. Lou’s perspective is intertwined with a photographer’s, a novelist’s, a singer’s, among others. My particular favorite was the biographer who put her own peculiar spin on Lou’s actions and motivations. The novel is a fascinating portrait of the evolution of evil.