Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin: A Book Review

Another week, and another World War II book that examines another angle of history I knew nothing about.  (I really can’t get enough of these books!)

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This week’s book was Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin.  While this book was inspired by real characters, Claude and Blanche Auzello, it is a fictionalized account as there is not a lot written historically about this couple.

About the Book

When the book opens, Blanche, an American, and her husband, Claude, a Frenchman, have been married approximately 15 years and the Nazis have invaded France and taken over the Ritz.  Claude has lovingly managed the Ritz for years, and he hates taking orders from the Germans, but he does so because he perceives that this is the best way to keep himself, his wife, and his entire staff safe during Nazi occupation.

Claude and Blanche got married quickly and really did not have time to get to know one another.  He’s a staunch Frenchman, and she’s an American flapper, and they agree on very little, including what the roles are for a husband and a wife.  There relationship is punctuated by anger and hurt, and several times, Blanche runs off only to come back to Claude.

When Blanche meets a woman named Lily one of the times she runs off, her whole world is turned upside down, and she begins to do something she had no idea she could do–she takes action against the Nazis.  Unbeknownst to her, Claude is also taking action against the Nazis in his own way.

My Thoughts

The story of Blanche and Claude when the Nazis invade is a compelling and interesting one. What was not interesting to me was their tumultuous marriage, and, unfortunately, the first 1/3 of the book is largely just about their marriage and their endless bickering. In fact, after 120 pages, I was ready to just give up on this book until I read some reviews that hinted there was something bigger to this couple’s story. When I actually searched the internet and found their true story, I was much more compelled to finish this book.

Knowing the secret the two of them hid made this book so much more interesting. Unfortunately, the author doesn’t choose to reveal the secret until the last 70 pages of the book, which is a shame.  I can see this book being really great if the reader knew very early on what Blanche and Claude hid.  That would make the book an intense page turner.  Instead, the beginning 1/3 of this book is so slow, I wanted to quit reading.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.

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