Inveterate, incurable readaholic, who blogs about books and what's in 'em. If readaholism is a deadly disease, no problem. Couldn't imagine a better way to go.
I just adore the excess book section of my local Hamburg library. Books for sale, and no due date worries. So even though I couldn’t afford so much as the thread used in haute couture, I was happy to pay my 50 cents and be plopped in the middle of Coco Chanel’s Paris fashion world. Author Harold Carlton’s characters bring to life the trials and triumphs of young people struggling to make it in this seductive, but cutthroat industry, all the while looking for the promise of love’s happily ever after.
The characters are likable, well fleshed out, but I particularly liked the quirky American, Samantha. Between her odd nocturnal dreams of heading the Chanel Addiction Treatment Centre to cure her Chanel obsession, and her daytime sexual exploits calculated to further her ambitions, she was a comical, infuriating, and lovable mixed-up mess of a person.
Also, even when the story lagged a bit, particularly in the first half where not so much seemed to happen, I was hooked by Sophie’s story with its bit of family intrigue and pesky secrets from the past. I found myself as anxious as she to have the puzzle unraveled, and though the outcome was not at all what I predicted, the resolution was a satisfying surprise in keeping with the history of the times.
Though not mentioned normally when one reads about the book, two other elements were as much integral “characters” as the four young fashion hopefuls. First is 1960s Paris. Against the backdrop of Vietnam War protests and a changing society, the reader gets a colorful glimpse of two Parises: the old guard hanging on by its teeth to an old way of life and the new one battling to be heard. Also while reading, I wondered if some of the places mentioned were real, and sure enough, restaurants Angelina Tea Room on Rue de Rivoli and Café de Flore on the Left Bank, with their tempting confections, still exist and are waiting for me. What a delicious thought.
The second element, which figures prominently, but not really as a character is Coco Chanel herself. With her iconic status and mysterious life, the then already old designer appears only briefly, but casts a long shadow over the lives of the four characters. Each of them is in love with her in their own way.
As I previously noted, the book did seem to lag a bit in the first half, but I enjoyed it nonetheless and am happy to recommend it for the fashionistas among us who want to be transported back to a pivotal era in fashion history.