THE MAN WHO LIVED AT THE RITZ by A. E. Hotchner

THE MAN WHO LIVED AT THE RITZ

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KIRKUS REVIEW

One-third mere name-dropping, one-third serviceable Resistance suspense, one-third clichÉd inspirational melodrama--an unsatisfying novel of Paris during the 1940 German Occupation, thanks largely to Hotchner's pallid prose and a faceless, unsympathetic hero. He's American painter/art-historian Philip Weber, 38, a Ritzdwelling expatriate whose best pals are Coco Chanel, Man Ray, and Janet Flanner. (He has also chummed around with Ernest, Scott, and Lindbergh--as we learn in tiresome stock vignettes verging on unintentional parody.) But Philip's newest, biggest famous-chum is none other than Hermann Goering, who has set up headquarters at the Ritz--popping morphine tablets, swishing around in caftans, and fretting over his stolen-art-treasure trove: he asks neighbor Philip to help out with authenticating the paintings. Will Philip help Goering? Yes--since his politics are Lindberghian and he prefers (like a pale imitation of Bogart in Casablanca) not to get involved. But soon Philip finds himself forced to change: Janet Flanner dumps him when he won't help her save Sylvia Beach's books; the Underground is pressuring him to help them; and then--the final straw--Philip's new passion, Countess Lili, is savagely murdered by the Nazis when her dilettante-ish Mata Hari activities go sour. So Philip now finds himself siding with the Underground--getting them information, falling for RÉsistance lass Gaby. And when Goering learns of this treachery, Philip must flee south. He's nearly caught and executed but is saved by nuns; he nearly freezes while trekking over the Pyrenees; and he's last seen adopting a peasant lad, finding God, declaring to himself: ""I love this boy. . . and I love Gaby, and for someone who never loved before, that is pretty good."" As a novel of character transformation, however, this doesn't work at all: Philip is the blandest sort of pseudo-Hemingway hero, defined chiefly in terms of the famous people he knows--and his predictable awakening-to-decency is simply mechanical. The best moments here, in fact, come when Philip is offstage--as in a simple but suspenseful little subplot involving Underground activities at the Ritz. And so, despite a clutch of usually-reliable plot devices, the prime appeal here is for readers partial to literary/historical cameo appearances on parade.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1981
Publisher: Putnam