In Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion, the Ritz Hotel is the center of life for the rich and famous and the staff who serve them. When the Nazis march into Paris, the Ritz Hotel is commandeered for the officers. Many of the staff have already fled or been forced out of Paris, leaving a much-reduced staff to maintain the high standards of this world-class hotel. This novel is populated with real and fictional characters, keeping the focus on three women: Olivia Olsen, a chambermaid at the Ritz, and two residents at the hotel, Coco Chanel and the French actress Arletty. Olivia is an American living in Paris as a struggling artist. To eat and pay her rent, she takes a job at the Ritz. When her fiancé is arrested and killed by the Gestapo, she is motivated to join the French Resistance. She takes advantage of her access to Hermann Goering and other Nazi officers’ rooms to gather classified information. Coco Chanel is living at the Ritz with her lover while battling drug addiction during her declining years. She is bitter towards a Jewish business associate and takes an active pro-Nazi stance. Arletty is a famous actress known for her steamy roles. She begins an affair with a Nazi officer, which has a devastating effect on her career.
This is an engrossing read. I was captivated by Marius Gabriel’s fictionalized account of the real-life Coco Chanel and Arletty, as well as his characterization of Hermann Goering. Gabriel captures the story of the people who struggled to survive the occupation, those who actively resisted, and the ones who collaborated with the Nazis. In the Author’s Notes, we learn what happened to the Ritz and many of the real-life characters after the war, including Coco Chanel and Arletty. This section nicely wraps up the novel.