Okay, like, I don’t even know how to approach this one. Also I’m in the middle of bar exam studying, so…. I just don’t have a lot of brain.
I first read this book many years ago- I was dog-sitting for some neighbors, and they had a copy of this in their TV room, and I swiped it. They never asked, and I never mentioned, but I was fascinated by it.
It’s not a traditional “boy meets girl, girl disses boy, boy has huge misunderstanding, somewhere in there they get it on, HEA” Romance. It’s more the story of three women in a family, and starts before World War I in France, wanders through the 1930s in Hollywood, goes back to France and Britain during World War II, and, blunders through the early 50s.
So we start with Eve, who is 16 in 1912ish Dijon, and being raised to be a perfect wife and she’s confined and bored and a fantabulous singer, but instead of wanting to sing the classical arias she’s allowed, she likes singing plebian trash. She ends up running away from home with a musical hall singer (who seduces her most thoroughly) and when he can’t work due to pneumonia, she becomes a star on the music hall stage.
Her counterpoint is Paul de Lancel, the second son of the Viscount de Lancel., and also a member fo the diplomatic corp in France. His family makes champagne. He was married to an only daughter of an ancient and honorable and impoverished family, and she died giving birth to their son while he was off at WWI. He meets Eve while she’s singing at the front, and then decides basically right then and there to marry her. She is all over this plan, and gives up her singing career to be a diplomat’s wife. Because she’s declassee and caused a HUGE ASS scandal by running away to perform in a music hall, his career suffers a whole bunch.
(Even though he’s one of the few French diplomats to survive the war, he still gets shunted off to places like South Africa and India and HEAVEN FORFEND Los Angeles.)
Paul and Eve have two daughters, Delphine and Marie-Frederique (Freddy) who are chalk and cheese. Delphine is a delicate beauty that is so remarkable that “everyone who remarks on it feels like they are making an original observation” and Freddy is red haired and vibrant and has been convinced from the age of three that she wanted to fly.
Delphine goes through a phase where she wants to be famous (and it’s super lucky for her that this is pre-internet, because this is the kind of kid who finds the wrong kind of famous on YouTube), and after being arrested on an illegal gambling ship, gets shipped off to the France and stumbles her way into becoming a French movie star.
Like you do.
Freddy lies her way into flying lessons, then, when she says that UCLA is not for her (and…. She’s so right) gets kicked out of the house, gets a job doing flying stunts for Hollywood movies, and enters into a passionate relationship with her flying instructor. It ends, and she ends up working in the Air Transport Auxillary with a number of other women pilots in Great Britain for the duration of WWII.
I don’t want to summarize the whole thing because a) I kind of want people to read it and b) THIS SUCKER IS LONG.
So we’ll go with what keep bringing me back to this book- I’m on my second copy, the stolen one being long gone.
First, the story is classic Oldish Skool Crazy Sauce. Ridiculous story, French nobility, La Resistance, World War I, World War II, movies, flying- there is everything but a kitchen sink in there and it is AWESOME.
Second, Krantz loves history, clearly. She shows her work in making the world real. I think this was my first exposure to the chaos of WWI, and she weaves in the bits about famous women pilots and racing, the ATA, the French film Industry and the French music hall business- there’s so much texture and detail! LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT.
Third, in addition to the general history and place detail, THERE IS THE DRESSES. You guys know I’m a total sucker for pretty dresses, and the discussion of the anatomy of the Diot New Look and the TOTAL COSTUME PORN when Delphine is dressing to go…. well, anywhere… TOTAL TOTAL COSTUME PORN.
This isn’t a traditional romance, which I appreciated that none of the women started off with their one and onlys at the outset. There was a theme of “Hm, I’ve known you for like, six hours and clearly you are the dude for me!” running through. Which is weird, but we’ll go with it.
I can see some people being dismayed (or pissed off) that Eve just gave up her pretty great career as a music hall singer to be a diplomat’s wife. And I’ve been angry about it, and I’ve thought about it, and well, frankly I don’t see any other way it could have worked out. Paul is a diplomat, which means he’s going to be sent around the world. Also, the spouse of a diplomat is an important, unpaid position in and of itself. And if Eve found that acceptable, well, who are we to judge? Neither Freddy or Delphine give up their careers for their dudes, and there is exploration of what that means for both of them, so it’s not a unilateral thing.
Seriously, I love this book. It’s so crazy. GO READ IT AND TELL ME WHAT OTHER KRANTZ BOOKS I SHOULD READ.