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Chanel's Riviera: Glamour, Decadence, and Survival in Peace and War, 1930-1944
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Buddy Reads > Chanel's Riviera: Life, Love and the Struggle for Survival on the Côte D’Azur, 1930–1944 by Anne de Courcy (October 2020)

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Susan | 10006 comments Mod
Welcome to our October Buddy Read of Chanel's Riviera: Life, Love and the Struggle for Survival on the Côte D’Azur, 1930–1944 by Anne de Courcy

Far from worrying about the onset of war, in the spring of 1938 the burning question on the French Riviera was whether one should curtsey to the Duchess of Windsor. Few of those who had settled there thought much about what was going on in the rest of Europe. It was a golden, glamorous life, far removed from politics or conflict.

Featuring a sparkling cast of artists, writers and historical figures including Winston Churchill, Daisy Fellowes, Salvador Dali, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Eileen Gray and Edith Wharton, with the enigmatic Coco Chanel at its heart, Chanel's Riviera is a captivating account of a period that saw some of the deepest extremes of luxury and terror in the whole of the twentieth century.

From Chanel's first summer at her Roquebrune villa La Pausa (in the later years with her German lover) amid the glamour of the pre-war parties and casinos in Antibes, Nice and Cannes to the horrors of evacuation and the displacement of thousands of families during the Second World War, Chanel's Riviera explores the fascinating world of the Cote d'Azur elite in the 1930s and 1940s. Enriched with much original research, it is social history that brings the experiences of both rich and poor, protected and persecuted, to vivid life.


Susan | 10006 comments Mod
I know RC is reading this one - anyone else planning to join in? A little glamour in the sunshine, before the shadow of war?


message 3: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4589 comments Mod
I'm very tempted - may join in during the next few days!


Susan | 10006 comments Mod
Yes, vicarious travel is the in thing at the moment :)


Roman Clodia | 5075 comments Mod
I've made a start on this and it's nice to see some familiar figures such as Daisy Fellowes turn up from The Riviera Set. I'm finding the book a little disjointed but am enjoying the frivolity for the moment.

It's nice to see some of the literary figures we associate with the Riviera make an appearance and I'm eager to learn more about Chanel herself.


Susan | 10006 comments Mod
Yes, good to see 'Willie' Maugham make an appearance. I always think of Bernie Gunther when I read about him now!


Roman Clodia | 5075 comments Mod
Haha, I've never warmed to Bernie in the same way - but he'd certainly be in his element with all that flesh on show at the beach ;)


Tania | 1017 comments I've started this one. It is nice to see so many familiar faces. I know next to nothing about Chanel herself, but have read a few biographies of the various writers that lived there.


Roman Clodia | 5075 comments Mod
I have to confess I'm finding this quite a disjointed read - it's quite superficial with lots of lists of famous people without discussing them in any depth.

I was interested to learn that Thomas Mann was briefly on the Riviera after leaving Nazi Germany but after a paragraph he was gone to Switzerland.


message 10: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1215 comments I've started this one. Not very far in yet.


Susan | 10006 comments Mod
It is definitely a book of two halves. I think I said in my review that the author doesn't really seem to know where she wants to go with this one.

Might have been better to have made Coco Chanel more central to the story?


Roman Clodia | 5075 comments Mod
It feels like a book of about eight halves to me - :)) It's almost as if off-cuts have been stitched together and paragraphs don't necessarily flow with repetition between them.

So Maxine Elliot (whom some of us met in The Riviera Set in much more depth) is described as one of the great hostesses of the period and place - then in the same way when she's mentioned again a few chapters later.

Yes, I agree, a focus on the fascinating Chanel would have given this some much needed focus. There are too many mini-stories like the abbreviated recap of the Edward and Wallis Simpson drama that have this shooting off in so many directions at once.


Susan | 10006 comments Mod
It started well too. I loved the initial dinner party with Maugham and 'Her' 'Royal' 'Highness.' However, as you say, the overall book has no real arc and shoots off in all directions.


Roman Clodia | 5075 comments Mod
Yes, that was amusing. I want more anecdotes and fewer lists of names dropped. I'm hoping it will pick up with the war on the horizons. So far, even though I'm no expert, I've not learnt anything I didn't already know.


Tania | 1017 comments Agree with you both here. I was more drawn to the Riviera aspect than Chanel's story which is fortunate because so far, out of 3 chapters, one has been about her.
People are almost just being listed rather than discussed in any detail, so other than the fact that they were there, I'm not really learning much about them


Roman Clodia | 5075 comments Mod
Hmm, I'm afraid I lost patience and skimmed to the end. The information on the Occupation is well known and covered better elsewhere, and much of it is set in Paris where Chanel is staying at the Ritz.

I would like to read something that really is focused on Chanel and which doesn't shy away from the disturbing aspects such as her anti-Semitism and her Nazi lover - does anyone have any recommendations?


Roman Clodia | 5075 comments Mod
I did like the section on the French workers striking about working hours and being given, finally, two weeks paid holiday a year... then flocking to the Riviera where they upset the wealthy incumbents! I'd never heard of 'the red train' bringing them from Paris, mocking the Blue Train.


Tania | 1017 comments I haven't read it, but I came across this one Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel, Nazi Agent. Certainly doesn't seem to shy away from disturbing details of her life.


Roman Clodia | 5075 comments Mod
Thanks Tania: I wonder if this is too specific for me - and the 'Nazi agent' looks off putting. I mean, what secrets could Coco give away? How to cut the perfect Little Black Dress? :))

I found Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life but some of the reviews think it goes too far the other way, defending her anti-Semitism. And Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life has quite a few iffy reviews.


Susan | 10006 comments Mod
I did find it interesting that she thought she could bring about important political meetings. I read somewhere that Churchill helped her at the end of the war and there was a story in this book that, when she was interrogated, those involved knew of her friendship with Churchill and were unwilling to hurt her.

I will have a look and see if I can find a good biography. I like Justin Picardie, who wrote the one you mentioned, RC. Mainly for her novel, Daphne I must admit. They do seem to take sides, either general ones or which concentrate on the war years.


Roman Clodia | 5075 comments Mod
I thought it was very strange that she thought she had the ability to bring about the end of the war. And yes, the way she avoids the fate of other female 'collaborators'... Although that whole reckoning is very problematic: it's hard to see what choices single women had if they had children and ageing parents to support.

The Picardie is available in my library as book and audio so I think I'll start there even if it is positively biased.


Susan | 10006 comments Mod
Let us know what you think, RC. I will be interested to hear your thoughts.


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