Fiona Davis's stunning debut novel pulls readers into the lush world of New York City's glamorous Barbizon Hotel for Women, where a generation of aspiring models, secretaries, and editors lived side-by-side while attempting to claw their way to fairy-tale success in the 1950s, and where a present-day journalist becomes consumed with uncovering a dark secret buried deep within the Barbizon's glitzy past.
When she arrives at the famed Barbizon Hotel in 1952, secretarial school enrollment in hand, Darby McLaughlin is everything her modeling agency hall mates aren't: plain, self-conscious, homesick, and utterly convinced she doesn't belong—a notion the models do nothing to disabuse. Yet when Darby befriends Esme, a Barbizon maid, she's introduced to an entirely new side of New York City: seedy downtown jazz clubs where the music is as addictive as the heroin that's used there, the startling sounds of bebop, and even the possibility of romance.
Over half a century later, the Barbizon's gone condo and most of its long-ago guests are forgotten. But rumors of Darby's involvement in a deadly skirmish with a hotel maid back in 1952 haunt the halls of the building as surely as the melancholy music that floats from the elderly woman's rent-controlled apartment. It's a combination too intoxicating for journalist Rose Lewin, Darby's upstairs neighbor, to resist—not to mention the perfect distraction from her own imploding personal life. Yet as Rose's obsession deepens, the ethics of her investigation become increasingly murky, and neither woman will remain unchanged when the shocking truth is finally revealed. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)
I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
My Review: The description of this novel hooked me right off. I am a sucker for historical fiction these days, and especially historical fiction that is not on my radar. I’ve recently read a ton of WWII historical fic—which I love—and some of my favorite books come from that genre. But I also am, ya know, aware of WWII, and so it is very much on my radar. I, like many readers, also feel a connection to it because I have grandparents who served in various capacities during WWII and that makes me feel closer to them and I love that, especially now that they’re gone.
This book is about the famed Barbizon Hotel, which I did not know was famed, nor had I really heard that much about it (maybe this is showing my naiveté, especially in regards to New York City). Many famous women (one of the most famous being Sylvia Plath, although she lived there just a short time) have lived at the Barbizon Hotel, which I now know, and I loved that it was a huge cultural icon for women coming of age during the fifties. I am fascinated by the evolution—revolution—of women in the world, and the Barbizon was definitely a place where this happened. This is a time hop book, going back and forth between a modern day journalist (with her own set of drama and problems, of course), and a woman who stayed at the Barbizon and endured a tragedy there. She continued to live at the Barbizon, along with about a dozen other women, until modern day, when it became fancy and expensive and fashionable again. After a quick internet search I learned that this is true, and love the idea that there was just a little group of women who were left as a literal relic of the Barbizon’s past.
The story itself is quite interesting. As with many time hop books, the stories aren’t really all that related, which is fine, because I felt like this one did a decent job of connecting the two stories, although I found that the journalist basically squatting in an old woman’s apartment while she’s away to be a little improbable, but I was willing to let that slide. I mean, it made for a good story and a good connection, even if it was a little awkward in the end.
Although I enjoyed the story, I felt like some of the story lines were cut short, especially the historical story line. I’m not sure if Davis just wanted to leave us hanging—because there is a surprise at the end—or if she just wasn’t sure how to fill it all in and make it cohesive. I did feel like there was a little lacking, though, and the book is short enough she could have stood a few more chapters addressing what happened and the actual ending of the story. The surprise at the end was fun, though. I always like a fun twist.
I think this is a fun book, and worth checking out. I’m giving it 3.5 stars because I wish the historical story had been filled out and finished more at the end.
My Rating: 3.5 stars
For the sensitive reader: There is some discussion of sex and drugs, and some language, but I would see it is comparable to others in the genre.