Monday, May 27, 2019

Mistress of the Ritz--An Unlikely World War II French Resistance Figure

Although I have never previously read any books by the author of  Mistress of the Ritz, Melanie Benjamin, I do appreciate that her historical novels have focused on real women. All historical fiction requires research on the period, but a credible novel that deals with actual historical people needs additional research to establish what is known about those individuals.  So I salute writers who take this more difficult path.

I received a digital review copy of Mistress of the Ritz from publicist Ariel McCarter.  I decided to review this book because it deals with the French Resistance during World War II.

                         

Protagonist Blanche Auzello seemed somewhat superficial to me as the novel opened.   She experiences growth as a result of meeting Lily, an eccentric political radical.  Blanche's transformation into a woman who wanted meaning in her life and felt compassion for others less fortunate, increased my interest in Mistress of the Ritz exponentially.

Then there is a scene in which Blanche commits what looks like a very foolish and self-destructive mistake.  A reviewer on Goodreads reacted very negatively to this moment in the plot and called Blanche "too stupid to live".  I had to evaluate this turning point differently when I found out from the Author's Note that Melanie Benjamin didn't imagine a disruptive incident at this point in Blanche's life.  Given the real historical consequences, the actual Blanche Auzello must have done something very similar.   Benjamin implies in a subsequent scene that Blanche had subconscious reasons for her actions.  I find this very likely.  There can be complex underlying motives for self-destructive behavior.   

A later event that seemed too coincidental to be believable was also revealed as something that actually happened in the Author's Note.  Blanche was lucky.   In fact, luck seemed to have played a major role throughout the real Blanche Auzello's life.

My favorite character in Mistress of the Ritz was Lily.  Lily is in the historical record, but almost nothing is known about her.  So she is very nearly a fictional character.  I found Lily's invented personality quite appealing, and would have read an entire novel about her.

I did feel ambivalent about this book mainly because of Blanche's marriage to Claude.  What bothered me most was Claude's need to control Blanche.  I think that his domineering attitude gave the ending of the book, which also came from real life, a certain tragic inevitability.



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