The introduction of this book intrigued me. Nancy Pearl from NPR explained that The Last Night at the Ritz has been a friend maker for her. She wrote, “This innate friend-making potential that books have is especially true (and somewhat poignant) when the books in question is older, out of print, and no longer available at bookstores or easy to find on library shelves. A shared love for such a book is a magnet that draws you together; it works as a short cut to achieving that special sense of intimacy that good friends have.” She couldn’t have hit the nail on the head any better than that about the ability books have to draw us together. Look at all the blogs devoted to reading and books. Think about the last time you read a book and couldn’t wait to share it with a friend.
I started the book with something like excitement dancing all around me. There are so many possibilities when you crack open a book for the first time. Will it be enjoyable? Will it become a favorite? Will you learn from it?
My excitement began to abate rather quickly. It’s the late 1960s, and the narrator meets her best friend, the friend’s husband, and an ex lover for lunch at the Ritz. Lunch involves a lot of drinking and speculation on the part of the narrator as to her friend’s marital problems. Lunch doesn’t end their day together. They shop, they go to a cocktail party, they bar hop, they have dinner….
Intertwined with all present action (read drinking and other less savory insinuations) is the back history of the characters and their relationships. What a cozy little group in the late 1930s to early 1940s. I always thought the times were a little more chaste than, but if this book is to be believed they were not. Sheesh! A least there weren’t any scenes to be skipped, a small mercy.
The narrator is in Boston for a visit, and she wants to have the best day possible. She convinced her husband to let her come by herself this time. She doesn’t take his call later because she doesn’t know how to tell him. I wondered the whole book what exactly she didn’t know how to tell him. I figured it out at the very end. It was sad.
There is a lot of drama in this examination of relationships over the years. Secrets that have been kept buried for years bubble to the surface. A few are kept carefully buried by the narrator. Infidelity rears its ugly head. Drunkenness and anger also appear. In fact the narrator seems so fond of gin that I am a little surprised she isn’t pickled.
You have to read to the very last page to really understand. In fact I think reading this book a second time would bring more insight. The narrator is telling this the day afterward, and it wasn’t until the last five paragraphs of the entire book that comprehension dawned. I’d had an inkling before but hadn’t put it together.
I am honestly not sure if I actually enjoyed this book or not. I might have to reread it to make up my mind.