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A Hitchcock Blonde in Paris | Bluebeard's Castle

Anna Biller captures the seductively luxurious glamour of a honeymoon in Paris in her gothic novel Bluebeard’s Castle.

Anna Biller10 October 2023

A Hitchcock Blonde in Paris | Bluebeard's Castle

They went to Paris. Their first day there he left her waiting at the Café de Flore, a charming spot on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, while he attended to his business. She parked herself in a red plastic chair on the street and ordered a café gourmand, which consisted of an espresso with a plate of small desserts, including a chocolate mousse, a raspberry cheesecake, a religieuse, and a lemon gâteau. The waiter brought her order, and she leaned her elbows on the little round rickety table, stirring her coffee with a tiny spoon and watching people go by.

The café was one of the most famous in Paris, having been frequented by the likes of Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Boris Vian, Georges Bataille, and Guillaume Apollinaire. A large white awning displayed the name of the establishment in green letters, below which were floor-to-ceiling windows encased in glossy black paneled wood, the doors fitted with long brass handles. There were plants and bright flowers on the roof, and the balconies of the apartment building above were fronted with filigreed black iron railings. The tables were crowded close together, and Judith tried to pick up snatches of French conversation from the people at the adjacent table to see how much she could understand.

After she had watched the bustle of the boulevard for a while, she got up and went around the corner, where she stood gazing with inspiration at Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the sublime medieval church across the street, before returning to her seat and consuming most of the dessert (she had a formidable sweet tooth). Then she started jotting down notes for her next novel, thrilled to be part of the legacy of writers who had worked there. She hovered the nib of her fountain pen over her notebook, ideas inspired by her whirlwind romance flooding her mind. She had only managed to write six or seven pages when Gavin returned, all smiles, carrying a bunch of red roses.

Thrusting the roses into her arms, he took her by the hand and whisked her down the street, saying he wanted to take her shopping. They took a taxi to the Champs-Élysées and popped into Fifi Chachnil, where he bought her several exquisite lace-and-satin lingerie sets, four pairs of back- seamed silk stockings, two suspender belts, three corsets in black, white, and nude, two negligees, a slip, and several wiggle dresses. He bestowed on her his mother’s antique garnet ring for an engagement ring, with its large emerald- cut stone bordered by perfect diamonds. Afterwards, craving more jewels, they visited a shop where he purchased for her an art deco diamond ring, an Edwardian sapphire ring, and a Victorian ruby ring. They waltzed into various designer shops, where he bought her more dresses, a marvelously tailored skirt suit, high-heeled pumps, makeup, a new hand- bag, and perfume. He said he wanted to see her hobbling in a tight skirt, high heels clacking on the pavement, waist cinched, like an actress in an old black-and-white French film, and she began to have the same fantasies about herself.

The next day he took her to a salon, and suddenly she became woefully self-conscious about her dishwater brown hair that hung listlessly down, her heavy, shapeless brows, her nondescript eyes, her pale lips, her fresh-scrubbed freckled face, and her chipped, ragged fingernails, but all of that was quickly remedied. She got a facial, a manicure, and a makeover, her eyebrows were slimmed and shaped, and her face was expertly made up to look like a 1950s screen siren. The effect was stunning, and everyone raved about her excellent bone structure. So, she thought triumphantly, I’m my mother’s daughter after all!

Gavin stood staring at her after the last touches of powder and lipstick were applied. He formed his thumbs and forefingers into a rectangle, as if looking through the lens of a camera. “I wonder what you’d look like as a blonde?” he said. “A Hitchcock blonde . . .”

Instructions were given, photos were pulled up from his phone, and Judith’s hair was cut into a fetching shoulder-length bob, bleached platinum, and toned to a shade of gold reminiscent of Eva Marie Saint’s sleek locks in North by Northwest. (They had considered the ashier, almost silvery tones of Tippi Hedren’s and Kim Novak’s hair in The Birds and Vertigo respectively, but they ultimately found Saint’s warmer shade less dated.) When the toner was rinsed out and her hair shampooed, conditioned, blown dry, and misted with hairspray, the stylist stepped back, removed the pink-and-black salon cape with a flourish, and said, “Voilà!”

Gavin had insisted that she wear her new wasp-waisted gray suit, her nude corset, and her 1950s pumps that day, and now she knew why. On instructions from Gavin, the stylist pinned back her hair, studying a reference photo on Gavin’s phone. Judith tottered across the room, trying to imitate Judy’s walk after she’s been transformed into Madeleine in Vertigo, and everyone clapped and cheered.

The new Judith walked arm in arm with her handsome beau along the Seine, and everyone stared at them. Men stared at her the way they usually did, with that lustful darkness in their eyes, and women stared in longing, wishing to be in her place because her man was so handsome. They stared at Gavin too, with all of the same feelings. “They’re just jealous, because we’re such a beautiful and happy couple,” he said, and she knew he was right.

— An edited excerpt from Bluebeard's Castle by Anna Biller.

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Bluebeard's Castle
When the successful British mystery writer Judith Moore meets Gavin, a handsome and charming baron, at a birthday party on the Cornish coast, his love transforms her from a bitter, lonely young wom...

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