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Chanel Bonfire: A Memoir Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books; 1st Printing edition (January 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451675364
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451675368
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (232 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #277,310 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Lawless leavens her harrowing story with biting humor and never descends into self-pity--but boy, do we feel for her.” (People)

"Frequently entertaining chronicle of a daughter’s sad, detached upbringing." (Kirkus)

“[A] darkly comic memoir…[Lawless] chronicles her mother’s decline from sparkling femme fatale to desperate drunk in this simultaneously chilling and hilarious tale, whose unmistakable message is that though Lawless has, in some ways, led a privileged life, she never got the one thing she most wanted: her mother’s love." (O Magazine)

“[A] quick but powerful read that you can only wish was fiction.” (USA Today)

“Lawless’s chronicles of life with her charming, wildly unstable mother could be bleak, but the author’s wit, resilience, and compassion make her story illuminating and inspiring.” (Reader's Digest)

"A searing memoir that reads like a novel, as Lawless’s beautiful, unstable mother careens through the swinging sixties and seventies in New York, London, Paris and Morocco, two captive blond daughters in tow, before bottoming out in Boston. What astonishes is the author’s ability to tell her often hair-raising story of survival not only with lucidity and fluency but wry humor." (Anne Korkeakivi, author of An Unexpected Guest)

“[A] wrought and engaging memoir.” (Publishers Weekly)

“I was blown away by Wendy's ability to tell the story of such an emotional, troubled upbringing with such heart, love, and oftentimes, humor. If she isn't bitter, maybe none of us have the right to be. I found her story riveting.” (Sarah Colonna, New York Times bestselling author of Life as I Blow It)

"Mothers, in spite of what we wish desperately to believe, are sometimes very, very bad at taking care of children. Wendy Lawless survived her mother's flagrant horror show to bear witness and record her astonishing childhood. Chanel Bonfire makes an undesirable truth more vivid: some mothers just plain suck." (Susanna Sonnenberg, New York Times bestselling author of Her Last Death and She Matters)

Chanel Bonfire is both terribly funny and terribly tragic, often at the same time. With remarkable clarity, wit, and grace, Wendy Lawless recounts a childhood defined by her wildly unstable mother, a woman who can morph from Grace Kelly to Joan Crawford in the blink of an eye. I laughed a lot, teared up once or twice, and called my mom to say ‘I love you’ once I finished.”
(Cristina Alger, bestselling author of The Darlings)

“What a heart-breaking memoir. I will never look at a blue nightgown the same way again!”
(Tim Gunn, New York Times bestselling author of Gunn’s Golden Rules and Tim Gunn’s Fashion Bible)

“This miracle of a memoir is completely free from self-pity, and it’s surprisingly suspenseful.” (BookPage)

“Without too much self-pity, and with a good dash of humor, Lawless recounts a childhood spent on the move.” (Bust)

"Chanel Bonfire is provocative and affecting, sometimes humorous, and filled with sadness and loneliness. Wendy tells her story in a stunning, straightforward manner that is very moving." (All Books Considered)

"Lawless, a Broadway actress and essayist, keepsher prose straight forward, letting the story shine in this shockinglyentertaining memoir.” (

About the Author

Wendy Lawless is an actress who has appeared on television, in regional theater, Off-Broadway in David Ives’s Obie-winning play All in the Timing and on Broadway in The Heidi Chronicles. Her work has appeared in Redbook magazine, on, and in the local Los Angeles press. She lives in California with her screenwriter husband and their two children.

More About the Author

Wendy Lawless has published essays on motherhood, family and Hollywood in Redbook, and the Los Angeles press. A stage and television actress, she appeared on Broadway in The Heidi Chronicles and off-Broadway in the Obie Award-winning play All in the Timing. She lives in California with her screenwriter husband and their two children. Follow her on and see pictures, video and links for Chanel Bonfire at


If your book group plans to read Chanel Bonfire I would be happy to do a Skype Q & A with you. If you're having coffee or tea on your end, I'll have coffee or tea on mine. Cocktails? Cocktails! Contact me at

Customer Reviews

The book was very well written.
Edward Walker
I enjoyed the book a lot, and the author had me engrossed, but it was like she got tired of writing, and just ended the book.
barbara waite
While trying to always love her mother, Wendy goes through a very unstable childhood.
Linda T Blackmore

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Laurel-Rain Snow "Rain" TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Growing up with a mother like Georgann Rea was like a nonstop visit to a parallel universe for her two daughters, Wendy and Robin. In the beginning, she seemed quirky and full of fun, someone who wore a mink coat and always had a lit Dunhill plugged into her cigarette holder. She would impulsively move them from one plush apartment to another, on a moment's notice.

But soon the darkness descended and the world inside this family felt like complete isolation from the world of normalcy.

Narrated in the first person by the author, Wendy Lawless, Chanel Bonfire is evocative, sometimes humorous, and layered with sadness and loneliness.

I felt like someone standing on the outside looking in, with a huge impassable barrier between us, unable to reach the residents of this zany universe. Yes, sometimes the life created by this disturbed mother seemed like fun, with its advantages and interesting experiences. But Georgann's behavior drove everyone away eventually.

At one point, Wendy began therapy and found a safe haven there. Her therapist tried to help her plan how to protect herself and ultimately set herself free.

Why did the girls not reach out to anyone sooner? How did their father let them stay in this world? The answer lies in the emotional landmines created by the sickest one, to hem them in, while keeping everyone else out. Sometimes the prison that defines the world of a fractured family can be the most confining world of all. And the emotional distance that separates the residents in that family from the rest of the world can feel like a barrier that cannot be broken through.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Sarah on January 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I could not put this memoir down. My plans for an afternoon nap were derailed by this sad, funny, completely riveting memoir about the roller coaster childhood of Wendy Lawless.

Recounting life with her glamorous, manipulative, unstable mother could have been simply tragic. But the author wrings the humor out of every situation. The beautiful mother is utterly awful, a lying alcoholic, who often - inconsistently - is able to keep up appearances to the outside world. Over the dozen years covered by the memoir, the family's upper-crust nomadic life takes them from swank houses and hotels in New York, London, Morocco, Connecticut, Boston - usually with dramatic sudden uprootings. The suspense in each situation is whether the utterly awful mother will consistently do the opposite of what any decent human being would do, or whether she might for a moment resemble a stable parent. Usually the former, and in such spectacularly terrible ways: the reverse Christmas where she required her daughters to divest all of their toys, the competitive reaction to her daughter's first innocent crush (seduce the teenaged boy, of course, in view of her daughter), the Thanksgiving dinner that ends in an emergency room. So utterly awful, and yet I am smiling as I write this because the author delivers up her horrific childhood with humor, honesty, and heartbreaking affection for her younger sister. Chanel Bonfire is too much fun to put down. I read it in a single day, and read many passages out loud to my husband.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Amelia Gremelspacher TOP 500 REVIEWER on January 9, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The stunning portrayal of Wendy trying unsuccessfully over and over again to save her mother is the most cogent and dramatic part of this book. Wendy plays the classic role of a child who despite years of evidence to the contrary, still needs to believe her best efforts will save the situation. In shorter versions, the Stockholm Syndrome of victims siding with their captors is well known to the world. Unfortunately, children of people with substance abuse and personality disorders often fall prey to this as well.

Wendy does a great job of telling her story without playing the victim or dramatising what is already dramatic material. The main characters are sharply defined. SHe also paints a clear picture of the isolation of children with dysfunctional parents who are often able to mask the chaos of private life. Her mother's communications are full of double meanings such as "I would have left you if you werent pretty." Her mother's narcissism meant that she always saw a situation from her own perspective and was unable to empathize with the very children she was responsible for protecting.

The guilty pleasure of the novel is the setting. For much of her life, Wendy and her sister Robin, live the life of the very privileged. The high drama takes place in beautiful settings among interesting and famous people. This setting adds a dimensionality of interest to this tragedy. Her mother's failures become written largely. The adventures of the young family give a voyeuristic appeal to another world.

Overall I would recommend this book. Especially important are the lessons Wendy learned painfully about self care and the impossibility of saving those who do not wish rescue.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Michelle Fiordaliso on January 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Anyone that lives to tell their story of abuse and neglect, is a victor, not a victim. And if you can tell that story in as compelling a way as Wendy Lawless does in "Chanel Bonfire" then you are not just a victor, but an artist. I read this book in one sitting on a flight from New York to Los Angeles. It is not just an entertaining read, it's an utter inspiration that reminds us we can prevail and prosper despite our pasts. Read this book!
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