Fashioning a Little Prince’s Infidelity
Review by Jeremy Shattuck
Alfred A. Knopf
A fictionalized retelling of the final years of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the famed pilot, thrill seeker and French novelist, Studio Saint-Ex seductively weaves 1940s fashion with wartime romance and poetic prose.
Set in New York during the onset of WWII, Ania Szado’s novel follows a love triangle between Exupéry, his wife Consuelo and aspiring fashion designer Mignonne LaChapelle. Told from the point of view of the two women, the novel blends Consuelo’s real-life character with the fictitious LaChappelle.
Exupéry is known these days for his children’s book Le Petite Prince. However, Szado shows us another side of Exupéry: a kind of French Don Juan and aristocrat. Convinced that he has several mistresses, his wife Consuelo must bring him back into her arms and bed. Exupéry, however, has his eyes on another prize.
LaChapelle, a young fashion-school graduate, is struggling to find her place in an industry devastated by wartime rationing and the German occupation of France, the fashion mecca. The only job she can find is with her former teacher, Madame Fiche, who previously plagiarized her designs. LaChapelle must swallow her pride if she is to make a name in New York. However, each step forward only brings her closer to the injurious charms of Exupéry and Consuelo.
Saint-Ex succeeds in creating a vivid world of fashion and desire. However, its biggest failure for me was in bringing 1940s New York to life. Szado creates lively characters, but if I’m going to read a period piece, I want to hear, taste and smell a place in time I know little about. Her prose can be modern and long winded, which makes the dialogue feel artificial. The book’s tendency to jump around in time is also a little awkward.
Luckily, Szado’s ability to create a vivid scene did still make the book quite palatable for me. She has a talent for painting sensual scenes—sometimes bordering the erotic, but always keenly focused on the subjective and intimate. Though her attention to detail doesn’t show me everything I want to see, the characters’ emotions spring from the page. If you’re interested in Exupéry, fashion or romance, this is a quick and enjoyable read. However, if you’re looking for a satisfying period piece, it’s not quite—to borrow some 1940s slang—the cat’s meow.
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