The Heart of the Ritz is an energetic and complex novel with a thoroughly entertaining and captivating story that cloaks an exploration into human morals, personal sacrifice and courage.
I recently read the Paris Seamstress, and while I enjoyed the read, I was a little disappointed when the story moved from Paris under the threat of occupation; the Heart of the Ritz was my remedy.
Polly is a sixteen-year-old orphan, sent to live with her famous Aunt Marjorie, a singer, well known in Europe. When Marjorie dies suddenly, Polly’s guardianship falls to Marjorie’s three best friends, Alexandrine, Zita and Lana Mae. Alexandrine is a minor aristocrat, Zita is a film star and Lana Mae a wealthy heiress, and all three live hedonistic, socialite lives of privilege – their home, the famous Ritz Hotel in Paris.
They’re interesting characters, fun to know in a sort of “The Real Housewives of Paris, in the thirties” kind of way, but as they are, rich, indulgent and somewhat narcissistic, you wouldn’t want to spend too long in their presence. Cue the war as it came creeping to the outskirts of Paris with the fascinating rumours of the approaching German armies, the propaganda and lies of the French government as they keep the truth of the threat hidden until the last moment and then the shock and stunned adjustments needed by the citizens, as one of the world’s most prized cities falls in days and becomes an occupied prize of war.
The German’s take over with ruthless efficiency and Polly, and her three larger-than-life guardians must find a way to survive under the occupation. Each must face harsh truths about themselves, the lives they’ve led and what it will take to be able to live with their choices when witnessing unspeakable crimes. It’s a question we all ask and will hopefully never be called to answer, but who dares to risk their safety for an ideal when forced to choose?
The Heart of the Ritz tackles these issues alongside a good helping of romance without ever being sentimental or relying on easy choices. Some of the affairs with occupying German’s are heartbreaking, and the death of the young, innocent Jürgen rests well alongside other tragic literary deaths such as Pvt. Roth from Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead.
Luke Devenish has written an extraordinarily well researched fiction, based on history, that is so rich in detail and fact that it feels like a window back through time.
Expect to laugh and cry, while being enthralled as these remarkable women change and grow to be so much more than they began. This story will stay with me for a long time, as it dealt with many of life’s big-ticket items in a subtle, thoughtful manner that is so relevant because of the times in which we now live.
My rating: 5 sidecars from the Ritz @ $1500 per drink!