Book Review: The Parisians

The Parisians follows the lives of three women as their beloved city teeters on the brink of Nazi occupation, and the remarkably different lives they lead during this dark period. Set against the glamorous backdrop of The Ritz hotel, this beautifully written story follows the struggles of Olivia Olsen, living a dangerous double life as a hotel maid bringing vital information to the Resistance, whilst hotel guests, including Coco Channel, luxuriate under the protection of high-ranking Nazi officials.

historical fiction | WWII | nazi occupation | romance

Rating: 5 out of 5.

back cover blurb

Paris, 1940. The Nazis have occupied the city – and the Ritz. The opulent old hotel, so loved by Parisians, is now full of swaggering officers, their minions and their mistresses.

For American Olivia Olsen, working as a chambermaid at the hotel means denying her nationality and living a lie, every day bringing the danger of discovery closer. When Hitler’s right-hand man moves in and makes her his pet, she sees an opportunity to help the Resistance – and draw closer to Jack, her contact, whose brusque instructions may be a shield for something more…

Within the hotel, famed designer Coco Chanel quickly learns that the new regime could work to her benefit, while Arletty, one of France’s best-loved actresses, shocks those around her – and herself – with a forbidden love.

But as the war reaches its terrible end, all three women learn the true price of their proximity to the enemy. For in the shadow of war, is anyone truly safe? 

Author – Marius Gabriel |Published by – Lake Union Publishing in January 2019 | Pages – 360 (paperback)

my thoughts

This is the first time I’ve read a book by Marius Gabriel, and it won’t be the last … I’ve already lined up a few others in my Amazon basket.  In fact, at the end of the book is a short page about the author, and it’s here I read that Cosmopolitan magazine said Gabriel’s books will ‘keep you reading while your dinner burns’. How right they were.

When I first read the synopsis on the dust cover, the mention of Coco Chanel hooked me.  Whilst this is a fiction book, the story has been cleverly woven around a number of factual ‘anchor points’ which made it all the more absorbing.  Names synonymous with the Nazi regime (Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels) are omnipresent but kept at arm’s length, whilst Reichsmarschall Goering and Major Soehring take centre stage in the luxurious bubble of the Ritz.  Within these hallowed walls their paths cross with Chanel and the beautiful screen siren, Arletty – unsettling allegiances are formed, and ill-fated romances spark into life.

The book’s protagonist is Olivia Olsen, an American artist whose dreams of painting her way into the galleries of Paris are somewhat stymied by the start of the occupation.  To keep her modest apartment she takes work as a chambermaid in the Ritz, accessing privileged glimpses of the lives – and documents – of its German occupiers.  As the occupation tightens its hold on the city, and people she cares for fall foul of the Nazi regime, she – somewhat blindly – leaps into the arms of the French Resistance.

Ostensibly, the story pivots around Olivia, Arletty, and Chanel.  Equally compelling and chilling, the lives of these three strong, bright women are turned upside down by an invading force, capitulating to love and, in Chanel’s case, the pursuit of money. There are some beautiful, tender moments between Arletty and Soehring whose well-matched intelligence sparks some amusing conversations that made me laugh out loud … and then I had to quickly check nobody saw me finding this Nazi Major amusing and (dare I say it) utterly likeable.

But then there’s sex scene – singularly the weakest point in the book (in my opinion).  It made me cringe … and I’m not being a prude.  It reminded me of those terrible, awkward, sex education lessons at school, given by a teacher who’d clearly lost a bet in the staff room that week.  All self-conscious, floral metaphors with a dash of Mills & Boon – it was totally at odds with the rest of the book, and left me wondering if the author felt as awkward writing it, as I did reading it.  Thankfully it lasted less than half a page – perfunctory and unsatisfying 😉

When you finish the story, don’t put the book down.  Keep on reading as the author’s notes on the post-war fates of the real characters are as engaging as the story itself.

This is a story to read in short bursts.  Try to resist the book’s unquestionable page-turner credentials – not just because the dinner might burn, but because the truth behind the fiction deserves contemplation.  The story is peppered with indisputable facts – the minutiae of every day life in an occupied city, the magnitude of the crimes carried out in the name of war, the shock learning how French authorities facilitated the Gestapo – it’s not a heavy factual tome, but it is nonetheless a thought provoking read.

set the atmosphere

To eat and drink; cheese and wine … obviously! Decant the wine into an unmarked glass or ceramic bottle if you’re channeling your inner Resistance Fighter. Swap the wine for Champagne if you’re feeling more Ritzy, like Arletty and Chanel.  I love this simple and delicious Bastille Day toastier recipe from Presley’s Pantry. What’s more, you can cut this into bite-sized portions and you’ll never need to put the book down!

Listen to some 1940s inspired French music – think cafe jazz or bistro jazz for something quietly sophisticated, or accordion tunes for a full-on ‘Allo ‘Allo feel.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Parisians

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