Queen of the Night – About Alexander Chee

alexander-chee_jpg_size_custom_crop_659x650 Queen of the Night could not be more different than Alexander Chee’s first book Edinburgh.  Well reviewed, Edinburgh tells the story of a child’s sexual abuse and its aftermath.  It is a much more realistic novel than Queen of the Night which foregoes realism and functions effectively as a fairy tale- and a lengthy fairy tale at that.  At 500+ pages, Vogue Magazine called it a “doorstopper of a book.”  And one that took its author 15 years to write, years that Chee described as “titanic struggle… a lot of hopelessness combined with periods of breakthrough.”

The genesis of the book was in a conversation that Chee had with a writer friend about 19th century opera sensation, Jenny Lind.  Chee was intrigued by the story, and further researched the subject. In doing so, he stumbled upon photos of the Comtesse de Castiglione, an icon of glamour in 19th century Paris.   He drew most of his inspiration  for the book from photos of her in costume.  One of those photos graces the book’s cover.  He wondered what the story was behind the photos… who was that woman and how did she get there?  He says that he realized in looking at the photos that “the clothes were stagecraft, they  were both armor and a weapon.”  The more Chee learned about 19th century Paris, the more he became interested in it.  He took several trips to Paris for research and used, in his words, a “mixture of museums, novels, bios, letters and histories.”

Additionally as a professionally trained child choir singer, Alexander Chee was also fascinated with the ephemeral quality of the human voice, particularly of women’s voices.  He feels that women’s voices have less of a time limit on them, and he says that “I loved my voice so much, I couldn’t imagine who I would be without it, and so that is very much in this book.”

(Sources: Vogue.com/culture/bks/2/1/16, NPR.org/2016/01/30/464866350, Rumpus.net/2016/02/the rumpus-interview-with-Alex-chee/Alex Chee_interview)

(Photo source: https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/books/2016/02/14/alexander-chee-brings-art-to-life-in-the-queen-of-the-night.html)





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