I loved, loved, loved The Parisians by Marius Gabriel. For me, this is historic fiction at it’s best. Set in Nazi occupied Paris during World War II with many of the characters real historic figures such as Coco Chanel, this was a story that fascinated me, chilled me to the bone and totally consumed me. I finished it a few days ago and I’m still suffering from my book hangover. 🙁
The Parisians centres around three women; Olivia, a fictional character who as a struggling artist takes a job as a chambermaid at the famous Ritz Hotel to make ends meet; the real life Arletty, one of the biggest French film stars of the time; and the famous Coco Chanel. All these women are very different with contrasting attitudes to the war and the Nazi occupation.
It is the Ritz that binds the three women together as the famous hotel played an interesting, unique role during the German occupation. It accommodated senior Nazi officers (such as Hermann Goering) who all gave themselves a ninety per cent discount. It also accommodated privileged civilians of other nations, such as Coco Chanel who was sheltered from the severe hardships that the majority of French people suffered. Yet some of the staff spied for the Resistance during the occupation and were arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo.
Until reading this book I had no awareness of Arletty whose film performances are apparently regarded as among the finest in 20th century cinema. Yet she is a controversial figure as she had a public love affair with a German officer during the occupation. The affair is a key storyline in the novel.
Likewise I had no awareness that Coco Chanel also collaborated with the Nazis.
Gabriel writes in such an objective, sensitive manner that really opened my eyes. Yes, living in the 21st century it is easy to judge women that collaborated with the Nazis. And believe me, I was shocked. Yet this is also a novel about women striving to achieve and maintain their talents, their careers, their independence in a society which is dominated by men.
Throughout The Parisians, I was gripped. I was actually genuinely quite scared at times and petrified to turn the next page, but I had to as I was hooked and desperate to know the outcome.
If you’re like me and love historic fiction, you’ll love The Parisians. I know I’ve said it before but it really is historic fiction at its best. When you do read it, take a minute at the end to read the author’s note too. This is also fascinating, especially as I was aware that some of the characters were real, but there is a lot more real people featured in the novel than I could ever imagine.
Thank you to NetGalley, Amazon Publishing UK and Lake Union Publishing for my advance copy. Thank you also Marius Gabriel for this enthralling, vivid and fascinating read. I truly loved it.
The Parisians will be published on 17 January 2019.