Wednesday, July 03, 2019

World at War: Mistress of the Ritz

Mistress of the Ritz. Melanie Benjamin. 2019. Random House. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence:  Blanche is dead.

Premise/plot: This historical novel is based on true people/events. It stars a husband and wife, Claude and Blanche Auzello, living in Paris, France, during the second world war. The novel actually includes flashbacks for earlier--1920s and 30s. Blanche arrived in Paris as an American tourist. She wanted to be a big, film star and an Egyptian prince, J'Ali,  promised her the moon and the stars--essentially. Claude was a hotel manager/director who promised to show her the town--and kept his promise. He wanted to "save" her from the empty promises of one man who wasn't worthy of her. He married her. Cue the happily ever after, right?!?! WRONG.

Much of the first two decades of their marriage is fast-forwarded. Readers really only follow their story from 1940 to 1945. There are plenty of hints that the marriage is more unhappy than happy. The drama and suspense of this one center around their activities during the war. They are living in occupied Paris. Claude has been director of the Ritz for quite a while now, the Nazi occupation has not changed that at least. During the war, the Ritz plays host to the Nazis first and foremost. But does that mean that Claude and Blanche have accepted the Nazis and welcomed them fully?

The drama and suspense of this one center on the couple's individual participation in the French resistance. The husband does not trust his wife with his secrets. The wife does not trust her husband with her secrets. They view each other essentially as enemies.

My thoughts: I have very mixed feelings on this one. On the one hand, I loved the French setting. I've read quite a few books this year about the French resistance--not all have been set in the city of Paris. I love the time period; I do. Reading books--fiction or nonfiction--about the war is something that I actively pursue. (Hence WORLD AT WAR every Wednesday). Books based on true events/people are unique in that the author can give voice to their stories but ultimately not change the fate of her characters. I'd like to hope that Melanie Benjamin would change the ending if she could. I hope.

On the other hand, I do have major issues with the marketing of this one as a "love story for the ages." Would a true love story for the ages star a man who is a cheater?! The excuse he gives and readers are perhaps asked to accept is "I'm French. I can't help it. Other women mean nothing. I married you. Don't nag me about my mistresses. I'll always be honest with you and let you know which nights I plan to spend with them." Throughout the novel, it's "I'm French; I'm French; I'm French. If only you were French too, all our problems would poof--vanish. You just don't understand me."


But my REAL issue is that this "love story for the ages" ends in a murder-suicide. How can a book SELL THE IDEA of murder as ROMANTIC AND LOVING AND KIND AND PASSIONATE?!?!?! I do understand that that is the REAL story of a REAL couple. I'm not trying to change the facts, the story. But it is ABSOLUTELY NOT A LOVE STORY FOR THE AGES if the husband decides to kill his wife and then take his own life. The end of this one is not romantic, not loving, not a sign of is HORRIFIC.

So if the description of this one was actually honest, I might not have such mixed feelings about it. 

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Mae Travels said...

Well, that does sound like a really terrible book! Thanks for suffering through it so we wouldn’t have to.
Even the spoiler is appreciated.

best... mae at

Lark said...

Thanks for the heads up about that ending. I would have been seriously angry if I'd read this book expecting something happier only to read that.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

It doesn't sound like a book I'd enjoy reading. Thanks for sharing information about it.

Mel u said...

The Hotel on Place Vendome: Life, Death, and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris
by Tilar J. Mazzeo Is a very well done nonfiction history of The Ritz Hotel i read for Paris in July in 2017. It covers The full history of The hotel,but focuses a lot on The World War Two Years.

I was thinking about buying The book you reviewed but now i won’t. Thanks for your honesty