Ania Szado has written an interesting historical novel based on the writing of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic The Little Prince. The novel centers around a relationship between the famous aviator and author and a young French-American woman, Mignonne Lachapelle. This relationship is fictional, although Saint-Exupéry, or Saint-Ex, as he is called in this novel, was known to have such connections.
Mignonne is a recent graduate of design school who is struggling to start a career in fashion design during the early days of the American involvement in World War II. Although with Paris out of the picture things are looking up for American design, no one is ready to hire a rank beginner for a design position. So, Mignonne is forced to turn to Madame Véra Fiche, her instructor from design school who stole Mignonne’s ideas for a dress collection to open her own atelier. Fiche takes her on under a vague promise of partnership.
Mignonne has just returned from Montreal, where she has been staying with her mother, but she is already under the spell of the middle-aged Saint-Exupéry, whom she tutored in English the year before. They have carried on a sort of dalliance. On the scene, however, comes Saint-Ex’s tempestuous wife, Consuelo, whom he continually tries to dodge. He claims he cannot get any peace while she is around and cannot work, yet their relationship is more complex than that.
Saint-Ex himself worked to get America involved in the war in an effort to save his beloved France. Lately, he has been lobbying to join the services, but he is considered too old and too frail to fly, having crash-landed his airplanes many times in the course of his adventures. To calm his frustration and anxiety, he begins writing The Little Prince and seeks refuge from Consuelo in the Atelier Fiche studio to work and see Mignonne. Soon Mignonne is caught up in a tangled relationship with Saint-Ex and Consuelo.
This novel is well written and evokes its time successfully. I don’t think I was taken with its characters so much, though. I had some sympathy for Mignonne, but in her own way she is almost as difficult as Consuelo. Consuelo herself seems almost uniformly manipulative and conniving, and it is difficult to comprehend why Saint-Exupéry stays loyal to her, albeit in his own way. I frankly find Saint-Exupéry himself to be not so much a spellbinder as a high-strung and excitable man encouraging the attentions of a beautiful young woman without really paying much heed to her. I don’t find him romantic so much as also manipulative.
Nevertheless, I was engrossed in the story and found the details of Mignonne’s work and her sensual descriptions of the fabric fascinating even though I don’t pay attention to fashion. The story of the launching of The Little Prince around a fashion show and play was interesting, too.
I won this book in a giveaway from Unabridged Chick blogspot.