Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Dollhouse

Title:  The Dollhouse
Author:  Fiona Davis
Publication Information:  Dutton. 2016. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1101984996 / 978-1101984994

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "She'd forgotten the onions."

Favorite Quote:  "Courage is easy ... When you want to get out of a situation fast, you get courage."

The Dollhouse is the name given by gentlemen to the Barbizon Hotel in the 1950s. The building, now on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1927 and has served many purposes in its history. For most of its history, the building served as a hostel / hotel / dormitory / rooming house for young women who came to New York City to seek fame, fortune, a career, or whatever their dream for the future was. In the 1980s, the building became more of a regular hotel allowing male guests. Two decades later, the building was renovated into condominiums. Throughout, certain women remained as residents because of grandfathering rules and rent control.

This book is the story of two young women - Rose in 2016 and Darby in 1952 - both residents of the Barbizon. Rose is a journalist who moves into the building based on a relationship with the owner of one condominium. Darby is a young woman who comes to the city following the death of her father; she comes looking to go to school and be a Katie Gibbs girl - a secretary. She is one of the residents still in the building in 2016.

Rose meets Darby in the elevator one day. Rose is intrigued by Darby's history and the history of the building. She takes on that story as a human interest journalism story. Circumstances pull Rose into Darby's life and her home. In alternating chapters, the book tells both Rose's story and Darby's history. Both are stories of young women seeking to build careers and lives. Both have elements of a love story. Darby's story is by far the more dramatic one, and Rose's story becomes about bringing Darby's story to a conclusion.

The alternating chapters highlight the similarities and the contrasts between the two time periods in terms of culture, the role of women, and the changing city itself. Darby's story is about the beautiful girls who want to be models and find husbands and the plain girls who train to be secretaries. It is about the jazz clubs and the music scene of the city. It is also about the seedier underside of the big city and about what people will do to achieve their version of success. Rose's story is about dot com start ups, internet journalism, open relationships, and caring for aging parents. Rose's story is also primarily about bringing a resolution to Darby's. Rose's "research" methods are somewhat unethical, making that aspect of the story not quite believable, considering her statements about serious journalism. The lack of any repercussions for her actions stretch that believability factor even further.

Overall, the book is a quick and easy read. The book has the history with added touches of romance, mystery, and even a bit of foodie interest. I really enjoy learning about the history of the Barbizon. The story, however, feels predictable with an ending that is too neatly tied up. The book is an entertaining summer but not one that will stay with me.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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