THE NORMANDIE AFFAIR by Elizabeth Villars

THE NORMANDIE AFFAIR

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Don't look for fresh plots here: Villars has merely assembled some little Love Boat puffs of mini-drama. But you may want to take this voyage all the same--for the delightfully satiny re-creation of true POSH: tint-class life at sea on a 1935 sailing from New York to Southampton aboard the Normandie, most glamorous of the luxury liners. Villars' narrator is well-bred, avuncular busybody Anson Sherwood, exiled by his Boston Brahmin family--who turns on confidences like harbor lights at twilight, and delights in unraveling knotty dilemmas. And among those chattering to Anson: ambitious, beautiful girl-reporter Emily, out to prove herself on a Spanish Civil War assignment, who's falling in love with the man she wants to hate--married, possibly fascist Max Bollinger, aircraft manufacturer; cinema idol Gilbert, who's sliding into womanizing, alcohol and cheesy acting, with dear patient wife Celia; childlike golden-girl Samantha, loser in a celebrated custody case (who takes an overdose); Jewish Mr. and Mrs. Baum, determined to return to their Austrian home--soon to be Nazi-annexed; a baroness returning to the Germany she hates; bumptious but gallant young men headed for fighting with the Spanish loyalists; a weasel-faced Nazi, Hahne; and a Monsignor with an astonishing interest in gambling. Eventually then, gliding through the opulent dazzle of passengers and ship, and the jewel-like perfection of the service, Anson will inconspicuously play Mr. Fixit. He'll explain Emily and Max to one another and push them toward a few fabulous stolen hours. He'll bring Gilbert to heel and back to Celia. He'll cheer Samantha's post-suicide-attempt career. He'll blackmail Hahne during a dangerous clay pigeon game to release the baroness' son. In a risky and humiliating maneuver, he'll convince the Baums to collect their Austrian family and return to the US. He'll help along the love match of a penniless French steward and a rich American girl with dreadful parents. And, with the help of Life photographer Wellihan, he'll whisk one young man from Spanish martyrdom into other noble endeavors. True enough, this string of soft-centered travelers' tales melts quickly under hard scrutiny. But Villars, who in One Night in Newport offered another happy wallow in the gilded life, calls back the magic--the ""last of ease and the last of grace, the last of service . . . the last of haute cuisine and high life on the open sea."" Tolerate the stories, then, and lap up the Beluga caviar.

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 1982
Publisher: Doubleday