Having been a huge Melanie Benjamin fan, especially of The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb and The Girls in the Picture (loved the surprise tidbit thrown in about the Pickfords), I was very much looking forward to her latest. There were parts I liked and parts that didn’t work for me, but I mainly felt a lack of focus.
Benjamin takes two historical figures we know very little about, as shared in her Author Note, and populates their story amidst World War II.
Claude Auzello is the director of the Ritz in Paris, and he and his American wife, Blanche, are living large and spending time with many famous faces. The story alternates narration between them. This was a slow buildup of their relationship, often volatile. I did enjoy reading about their marriage struggles, but that took up a lot of space in the front half of this novel.
As the Germans begin their occupation of France, the Auzellos realize that their lives and lifestyles are in danger and begin working with the Resistance. This is where the plot picked up for me. I didn’t quite know where the story was headed in the beginning, which lost a lot of my attention. It seemed a bit scattered, so I had a hard time staying the path Benjamin intended.
I was also looking forward to more after the ultimate conclusion. I know history didn’t share what happened to this couple, but the story could have benefited from the aftermath of the war. In my perfect world, this book would have started at the middle and concluded much later. This might just be me, so if you do enjoy World War II reads, especially those which don’t take place in Germany or are set at the camps, you might want to give this a go.
It’s obvious Benjamin did her research. I trust her writing and can vividly picture whatever scene she sets.
My thanks to the publisher and Wunderkind PR for the review copy.