The Riviera Set reveals the story of the group of people who lived, partied, bed-hopped and politicked at the Château de l'Horizon near Cannes, over the course of forty years from the time when Coco Chanel made southern French tans fashionable in the twenties to the death of the playboy Prince Aly Khan in 1960.
Even in the hands of the legendary biographer Mary Lovell, I wondered if the denizens of The Riviera Set would sustain our interest five decades on, for the book ends in 1960 — and ostentatious wealth is now on a nasty bender. However, being gauche and being louche are two different things, and just about everyone at the Chateau de L'Horizon knew how to be outrageously amusing, utter a riveting bon mot, and mix an unheard-of cocktail ... Lovell takes us through three decades, two world wars, and endless intrigue ... Mary Lovell writes that she'd never before attempted the biography of a house, but came across Elliott and the chateau when she was researching a book on Churchill, and had to tell this story. The Riviera Set is overstuffed with social butterflies and 10th barons of What's -it-Shires of the Realm, but what Elliott did for Churchill — giving him a taste of peace and prosperity in his time, at least on the Chateau's waterslide — probably helped save England, and by extension, the Allies ... The Cote D'Azur may still be a playground, but today's Russian oligarchs and super-rich are far less fascinating than Maxine Elliott's firmament, which shines again here.
...like a delicious truffle-laden soufflé, leaves you feeling slightly glad you’re not rich enough to gorge on it daily ... Lovell knows how to render sly appraisals of her often complicated subjects. For long stretches, neither the book nor the mansion plays host to anyone who isn’t horrible, or at least very silly, so it’s a testament to Lovell’s charm and skill that, much like the Château de l’Horizon’s chatelaine, she’s able to show even the most judgmental reader a good time.
...yet in spite of these details the book reads less like a delightful portrait of high society at play, and more like an extended society column, lacking even the affectless intrigue of an episode of Made in Chelsea. Although Lovell goes after Elliott’s and Khan’s stories with enthusiasm and empathy, it’s never clear why they are worth reading about. She seems interested only in establishing that the house became a symbol of the wealth and success epitomised by the Riviera. Yes, and …? ... The third big personality at the chateau was Churchill. Lovell, the author of a biography of the wartime prime minister and his family, seems blinded by affection for him. There is no mention of Churchill’s involvement in empire, famine, chemical weapons or 'Britain’s gulag' in Kenya; nothing about the people who suffered while he swam in the pool ... There is, however, an unmissable photograph of Churchill going down Elliott’s waterslide. They should have put that one on the £5 note.