Ludwig Bemelmans recalls his time as a waiter at a fabulous hotel in New York City, complete with lots of humor, tragedy, and a cast of colorful coworkers.
I picked up this book because I love behind-the-scenes stories, and because I was interested in learning about the fabulous excess of 1920s New York City from a working-class perspective. It was only after I started reading it that I realized that the Bemelmans also wrote the Madeline series, about the little girls who lived “In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines.” The writing style is, of course, very different, but I do feel we get to see some of that same mischievous spirit here.
The book is comprised of a series of interconnected vignettes, introducing us to some of the many bizarre coworkers Bemelmans had while working at the Ritz and relating various incidents involving them and guests. There’s a subtle and often dark humor threaded through the whole book, which sometimes made me laugh and sometimes left me disturbed. I most enjoyed the stories centered around Fritzl, the homesick busboy, and Kalakobé, the Black casserolier.
While I enjoyed the various stories, I felt that there wasn’t enough of a narrative continuity to keep me properly interested, and the abrupt endings of some sections left me a little cold. Some of the people that Bemelmans hung out with were rather unpleasant too, which did not help matters. Overall there was a sense of something being left unfinished.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley. This is my honest and voluntary review.