"Studio Saint-Ex" by Ania Szado
The year is 1943, the world is at war and twenty-two-year-old Mignonne Lachapelle has left Montreal to make it as a fashion designer in New York City. It is there that Mignonne falls in love with France's greatest living writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and is swept up in their affair. But Antoine's estranged wife, Consuelo, has set out to win her husband back and when she enters into a business relationship with Mignonne a love triangle full of passion and artistic pursuits emerges.
Set against the back drop in which Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote his best selling book Le Petit Prince, Studio Saint-Ex by Ania Szado is a fictionalized account of his relationships, love, and the loneliness of art. The backdrop of New York City during World War Two is spectacular, instantly drawing you back into the time and the world of the French expatriates who live there.
When I first read about this book, I knew I would pick it up as Szado is a Canadian writer but to be honest I wasn't sure if the plot was going to be one that would hold on to me the entire way through. I was completely wrong. I instantly fell in love with Mignonne. To be young and creative, making her way in a big world, opening herself to all of the opportunities in front of her, even when they become difficult, is a wonderful dream to be swept up in.
Antoine and Consuelo were a little more difficult to fall in love with. I felt like I didn't learn much about Antoine until just toward the end and I had difficulty gauging just what kind of people they were. But at the same time, the three characters together made for an interesting dynamic. I found myself wanting to read just about Mignonne in the first half of the book, but wanting more of the three of them toward the end. For me though, I definitely found the original character Mignonne to be much more interesting than the real characters.
I'm always curious about writers who choose to write fictionally about people who have existed. It's one thing to pick a time period and write within it but to choose people who are well-known can be tricky, especially when deciding what to stay true to and what to create yourself. In this case it was a little difficult to tell what was supposed to be holding it all together. I had expected more about the writing process, more about The Little Prince, more of Antoine and actually less of Consuelo. But that's the thing about expectations, you can't get mad when the book isn't written the way you want it.
I only just read The Little Prince before reading this book. It's hard to believe it took me so long, but it's easy to see why it is a classic. Any fan of this book will enjoy learning more about the man behind it, what drew him to writing it, and what (or who) his inspirations were. One doesn't need to have read the book to be drawn to this one though. When I first picked up this book it reminded me of Cathy Marie Buchanan's The Painted Girls, a historical novel inspired by real life people set in an artistic world. I may not have felt as strongly about Studio Saint-Ex as I did about that book, but I think this one is definitely one of the must-read Canadian books of the year.