Posted in Back of the Shelf

Back of the Shelf! The Dressmaker’s Secret by Lorna Cook.

1941, Nazi-occupied Paris: In the glamorous Ritz hotel there is a woman with a dangerous secret…

As Coco Chanel’s assistant, Adèle lives side by side with German officers in the splendour of The Ritz hotel. But Adèle has a secret. She is working for the resistance, right under the Germans’ noses. As occupied Paris becomes more and more dangerous, Adèle will have to decide if she can risk everything to save innocent lives and protect the man she loves…

Present day: Chloé’s grandmother has never spoken about the war and avoids questions about the legendary designer she once worked for. Now Chloé has come to Paris, to uncover the truth about Adèle’s life. But is she prepared for what she will find? And for the power of her grandmother’s secrets to change her family forever…

Chloé has travelled to Paris after the breakdown of her marriage in order to help a friend with their vintage shop. She knows her grandmother worked for Chanel in the 1940’s so when she hears about an auction taking place at the Ritz she decides to have a look. The Ritz is selling some wartime items which grab her interest and when she meets Etienne, who is an art dealer and war historian, he is a great source of knowledge. He tells her about recently unearthed information that Chanel was sympathetic to Hitler’s cause and had visited Berlin several times. Like many people who survived the war, her grandma has been very reticent about sharing her experiences for that? As Chloé starts to look in the archives, she begins to worry. What will she feel if she finds out her grandmother collaborated.

The historical research undertaken for this novel is undeniable and before reading this I had no idea of Coco Chanel’s stance in WW2 or the stories of her collaboration with the Nazis. I think now that history has shown us the full extent of the Holocaust and Hitler’s belief in a master race, we can’t conceive of anyone who doesn’t see him and his actions as unremittingly evil. However, it’s clear that during the war, for both Germans and occupied citizens the distinction wasn’t so clear. With our own aristocracy hiding many who were enthralled by Hitler’s planned genocide, it shouldn’t be a surprise that in France, Greece and Italy allegiances and the reasons for them were very complicated. If you had a bakery in the occupied Greek islands would you rather see bread go to waste or would you sell to the occupying force? For Chanel, living in the Paris Ritz alongside German soldiers it must have been hard to live next door and keep up a secret campaign of hatred. This is where Adèle’s story shines a light, as Chanel’s PA she can come very close to them, but still want them dead and gone from France. So with great bravery she resists under their very noses.

Adèle’s wartime story is so engrossing, that I think it makes the book a little lopsided. The dual timeline, as in the present Adèle’s granddaughter Chloé researches her family history, is definitely the weaker end of the story. It’s almost there as a device and although it gives present day interest, I think the book would be just as strong without it. It’s possibly just that the tension and drama need to be high for the WW2 setting, so anything would have seemed quiet in comparison. Prior to the war, Adèle grew up in an orphanage, taught by nuns. She had worked for Chanel before war broke out and is lucky to be chosen as her personal secretary when the atelier is closed, because all the other staff are let go. Adéle is in charge of her correspondence, packing her luggage when she travels and organises any meetings she has. However, she does not enjoy living at the Ritz, especially when the German soldiers move in and Chanel starts to socialise with them, dating a much younger man at the same time. It’s the guilt that’s so hard to deal with, especially when Adèle sees other people going hungry. When she first sees a Jewish woman being arrested, she’s stunned and feels sick that this is happening in her country. As she goes for her routine blood donation to the Red Cross she meets Theo, a doctor who is a member of the resistance. Can Adèle continue to watch others suffer or will she have to help?

I think that this writer takes a piece of history and weaves a great story, full of intrigue and drama especially in the WW2 sections. Chloé needs to move forward from her divorce and find her confidence again and there is something about filling in the gaps of her family history that does this. Learning the truth about her grandmother is nerve-wracking considering her employer’s history, but if it shows she was a hero then Chloé will filled buoyed up by it. Knowing you’re from a line of strong women, can help you find your own strength and I think that’s the essence of Chloé’s journey. Adèle is a courageous woman in a very tough situation and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her and the full history of one of France’s most famous collaborators.

Published on 22nd January 2022 by Avon Books.

Meet The Author

Lorna Cook is the author of the The Girl From the Island, The Forbidden Promise and the Kindle Number 1 Bestseller ‘The Forgotten Village’, which was her debut novel, staying in the Kindle Top 100 for four months. It has sold over 150,000 copies, has eleven overseas/foreign language editions, won the Romantic Novelists’ Association Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel of the Year Award and the RNA Joan Hessayon Award for New Writers. Keep up with all her news and bookish chat at:www.lornacookauthor.com www.facebook.com/LornaCookWriterwww.instagram.com/lornacookauthorwww.twitter.com/LornaCookAuthor

Author:

Hello, I am Hayley and I run Lotus Writing Therapy and The Lotus Readers blog. I am a counsellor, workshop facilitator and avid reader.

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