The Hotel on the Place Vendome
Since the Paris Ritz was first established in 1898, hundreds of world-famous writers, actors, princes and tycoons have stayed in its suites and dined in its restaurants. It also had a unique role in World War II as a major base for the occupying German army. The main substance of this non-fiction account takes place in those war years, and there are many stories of interest: of resistance fighters, plots to kill Hitler, of Coco Chanel and Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn and Marlene Dietrich, but at times it feels that the author is so keen to name-drop and gossip that the harsh reality of wartime Paris gets lost. There is a familiar, knowing tone to the text and a mixture of facts and authorial speculation blend together, at times very awkwardly. The occupation and liberation of Paris form the best chapters, but thereafter the stories are weaker, at times appearing tenuously linked to the hotel and with revelations about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor taking up perhaps more space than they merit. Overall, although the concept of a history of the Hotel Ritz is appealing and the several of the stories are engaging in their own right, as Mazzeo attempts to cover the Hotel’s long history – from the Belle Époque to the renovations of Mohammed Fayed – her material becomes thin and her characterization sketchy.