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Mistress of the Ritz

Review

Mistress of the Ritz

When American expat flapper Blanche Ross travels to Paris with a friend in 1923, she feels like she has come home. The people, the architecture, the culture --- she is impressed by it all, and that includes the helpful assistant manager who promises to show her the town. It doesn’t take long for Claude to fall in love with Blanche and ask her to be his bride.

Almost from the outset, their differences are glaring. Claude, a former war hero, is a traditional Frenchman in every sense, including the long-held tradition of keeping a mistress. Blanche is an outspoken, modern American who has zero interest in becoming the perfect French wife. Not content to stay at home and cook, she wants to drink in the city and take advantage of all that it has to offer. Soon, she is encouraging her husband to seek out a higher position at the ultimate luxury hotel on the Place Vendôme, the Hôtel Ritz.

"Based on true events, Melanie Benjamin’s MISTRESS OF THE RITZ skillfully crafts a perilous love story intertwined with a wartime adventure that grabs readers right from the jump."

As Claude rises up the ranks, Blanche becomes the perfect complement to his new position: “Blanche has grown accustomed, over the years, to dressing up to the Ritz. There’s just something about the place that inspires you to wear your best, to sit up straighter, talk more quietly, drape your best jewels about your neck, check your reflection one last time before venturing out into its marble halls, every surface always shining and polished.” Under their tutelage, the Ritz becomes a beacon to artists like Picasso, Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds and the Porters. If you are in the cultural elite, you are seen at the Ritz.

Over the years, though, the Auzellos’ marriage has had to weather many volatile storms. Cultural differences and societal expectations all lead to their fair share of fights, often resulting in Blanche fleeing the city to stay with friends. In the end, though, she always returns to her beloved Claude and the Ritz.

However, once the Nazis advance on Paris, everything changes. Taking up residence in the once-pristine marble halls of the Ritz, Blanche and Claude have to walk the fine line of doing their jobs and being loyal citizens. A friend working for the Resistance reminds Blanche, “There is danger, Blanche, everywhere. Bad people. But you and your man, you must have something else to fight for, as you would a child’s life… So, what is your reason to live, Blanche?” The couple decides to aid the cause of the Allies by working for the Resistance, right under the noses of the German soldiers. In the midst of this turmoil, Blanche is harboring a secret, one that could get both her and Claude killed.

Based on true events, Melanie Benjamin’s MISTRESS OF THE RITZ skillfully crafts a perilous love story intertwined with a wartime adventure that grabs readers right from the jump. The rash American expat and her subdued husband have to work together to champion freedom, as well as protect their marriage, their way of life and their beloved Ritz. Much like their city, they must soldier on: “So what can Paris do but --- live on? Look forward? Take pride in the past that is distant, heroic --- and plan for a future that is not predicated too much on national pride. In a way, this binds Parisians together, after…the skeletons become, at least in appearance, people again…[and] concentrate on the future.” Readers will be captivated until the very last page.

Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on May 24, 2019

Mistress of the Ritz
by Melanie Benjamin

  • Publication Date: May 21, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press
  • ISBN-10: 0399182241
  • ISBN-13: 9780399182242