The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free

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There are books that, upon finishing, have left me thinking, “This would have made for a great magazine article. But there wasn’t enough here to make for a satisfying book.” I had that feeling after reading the bestseller Why We Sleep and, more relevantly in the current context, The Castle on Sunset about the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. It’s also what came to mind after reading The Barbizon.

In Barbizon, the writer states early on, “It was only a matter of time before a new category of hotels emerged: women hotels for women.” The Barbizon operated as a women-only residence in New York City from early 1928 until 1981, when it began to admit men as guests. There must have been thousands of women who stayed or lived at the hotel over those decades. But this presumed history of the twenty-three-story building rests on telling us about a few select individuals – mostly prominent actresses and writers. While the focus is on actresses like Grace Kelly and writers like Sylvia Plath and Joan Didion, there’s far less space devoted to those who never achieved fame. It’s a shame. In this way, Barbizon falls short in the same manner as The Castle on Sunset. The latter is a name-dropping account of famous figures who stayed at the uniquely designed hotel and/or – sadly, died there. That approach is sensational and may sell books, but it’s hardly comprehensive.

Perhaps Barbizon would be more satisfying if the book examined a significant number of the women who were in residence during a particular point in time – such as in a key year. The book concludes with a chapter (“The End of an Era”) that informs the reader, “The hotel set [young women] free.” That may be so, but this account felt like being served thin gruel at an advertised feast.

Reviewed By:

Author Paulina Bren
Star Count /5
Format Hard
Page Count 336 pages
Publisher Simon and Schuster
Publish Date 02-Mar-2021
ISBN 9781982123895 Buy this Book
Issue June 2021
Category Biographies & Memoirs