Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel's Secret War - Hal Vaughan For those expecting a fully fleshed biography of Coco Chanel, make no mistake: as the title implies, the focus of this book is on Chanel's experience during WWII and the Nazi occupation of France. Vaughan does not (and, to my mind, never intended to) present an all-inclusive look at her life; countless writers before him have already done that. Only cursory, basic biographical information is given as to her life before and after the war, just enough to ground the reader in Chanel's life, while the bulk of Sleeping with the Enemy has a narrow focus on the narrow time period of interwar and wartime France. Neither the title or the synopsis on the inside cover give any other impression.

Vaughan's biography sucks you in, a quick read that captures one's attention with a manner that appeals to the voyeur. Information is presented clearly without unnecessary repetition, although the stage has so many players that it's easy to forget who's who and what name goes with which personality. This is definitely heavy on the history side, but I feel that background is a necessary addition in order to understand the actions and motivations behind Chanel's wartime behavior.

One complaint is that as I read, it seemed the author viewed his subject in a negative light. Granted, she was not a particularly pleasant woman or even, it could be argued, a particularly good woman. Creativity and artistic genius are not indicative of empathetic humanity, and especially when one analyzes her involvement in the Nazi occupation, it's quite easy to see her as villainous. However, I'm a firm believer that any good biographer should maintain a neutral tone in the writing itself; personal biases are impossible to prevent, but the author should keep them to himself and allow the audience to make up their own minds.

Vaughan offers up juicy details as promised, so there's no lack of delicious moments. However, the feeling is often akin to the gossip columns as opposed to the history section, and at time I had some doubts about the authenticity of his information, or at least the thoroughness with which it was presented. Whether that's your thing or not may be enough reason to pick up or discard this book.

Decent read, as much a look at occupied France as it is a biography of Chanel during wartime. Good fluff to read on a sunny, lazy day but not so much a serious addition to bookshelves.