Thursday, August 1, 2019

Mistress of the Ritz, by Melanie Benjamin. Delacorte Press, 2019

Based on a real couple, Mistress of the Ritz tells the story of Blanche and Claude Auzello. In the early 1920, they meet in Paris, have a brief affair, and marry very quickly. Blanche is American, a brash, talkative, foul mouthed American flapper. Claude is French, and the manager of the greatest hotel in the world, the Ritz in Paris. Their impulsive marriage has lots of problems; Claude takes the traditional view that he should be able to have a mistress, while Blanche has, shall we say, a huge problem with that. She comforts herself with lots of alcohol, down in the hotel bar, spending her time there talking with the celebrities, like Hemingway, the Windsors, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. She frequently passes out down in the bar, where they sit her in a corner, hopefully out of view of the guests. Claude’s days at the Ritz involve long hours and intense work, meaning he just doesn’t have time for a wife (especially when he has a mistress).

Things get worse when the Germans invade France, and Hermann Goering sets up headquarters in the Ritz. Now everyone must really mind their manners, never letting on what they think of the Nazis. Meanwhile, the French Resistance is active in Paris, which Blanche finds out about from her ragtag friend, Lily, a misfit in the bar but interesting. Soon Blanche is risking her freedom and life…. And Claude has secrets of his own.

The story is as much about a troubled marriage as it is about World War 2. Almost the first half of the book is about this, and, frankly, I did not like it; it is all about arguments. I found it boring, and I did not like either Blanche or Claude. It got better when the Nazi’s moved into Paris, and the French Resistance gets active. Told in the first person, with three different points of view and told in the present tense, it allows a lot of tension. The writing itself is beautiful most of the time. It is based on a real couple, about which very little is known, so the ‘historical fiction’ is very heavy on the ‘fiction’. One thing I liked is that the Germans were portrayed as real people, some sympathetic, even though what they are doing is evil. Three stars.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the heads up. I am a WW2 era fan but not a fan of marital problems that take up half a book