Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.
This entertaining history of the Paris Hôtel Ritz is told through stories of the many people who lived, worked, loved, drank, argued, and partied there, starting in La Belle Époque with hotel’s 1898 opening while the Dreyfus affair was polarizing French aristocrats, artists, and intellectuals. Soon the then unknown Marcel Proust became one of the regulars, gathering inspiration from the hotel’s patrons and staff for what would become his literary opus. The Ritz was a new style of luxury hotel but Oscar Wilde hated it because he found it all so very modern and jarring. The elevators were too fast, the electric lights too bright, and Wilde much preferred calling for a removable basin to having indoor plumbing with a permanent sink in his suite.
Though the book’s tales continue even past the time Princess Diana slipped out of one of the hotel’s back doors hoping to avoid the paparazzi shortly before their pursuit helped cause her death, the book’s focus is on life in the WWII era with all its bizarre contradictions and complications during the Nazi occupation and then liberation of Paris. Joseph Goebbels gave the order that Paris should be happy and gay--or else--so parties were held, plays were produced and love affairs were conducted even as some citizens were disappearing off the streets never to be seen again and the French Underground was working covertly to oust the invaders.
Aristocrats, philosophers, journalists, artists, authors, spies, German commanders, and members of the French Resistance all mingled at the Ritz which gives this book plenty of sometimes shocking anecdotes, all delivered in a chatty style but backed up by pages of reference notes. Hemingway who planned to liberate the Ritz without the help of the military, Coco Chanel who had a German lover, and Sartre, Cocteau, Wallis Simpson, and Hermann Wilhelm Göring are among the many notables who make appearances in this book. With just 238 pages of text this is a fast, fascinating read.