How did your reading go this month? Did you find something exciting and interesting to read that was set in New York City?
I did pretty well this month. I read The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis and really enjoyed it. It’s got a little bit of everything – deep friendships, the social status of women, bebop jazz clubs of the 1950s, prejudice, mystery and a murder. All set against the backdrop of the city that never sleeps.
In 1952 Darby McLaughlin arrives in New York City from her hometown in Ohio to take classes at the Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School and moves into the Barbizon Hotel for Women (which really did exist). Nicknamed “the dollhouse”, it housed aspiring models, secretarial students, and editors all working to gain success – or catch a wealthy husband. Darby is shy and frightened and intimidated by the rush and clamor of the big city. One of the maids takes pity on her and they become friends. However, the maid – Esme – is Puerto Rican and is considered unsuitable for Darby to associate with. Despite this their friendship flourishes and Esme soon introduces Darby to the glittering world of jazz clubs and New York City at night. But when a tragedy strikes, both their lives and those around them are altered forever.
The story of 1952 alternates with 2016 and Rose, a journalist who has just moved into the Barbizon (now mostly condos) with her boyfriend. She runs into the mysterious Miss McLaughlin one day and discovers that she is one of the few remaining tenants at the Barbizon from the 1950s. Miss McLaughlin wears a veil that hides her face and refuses to talk, but Rose’s curiosity it piqued and she begins researching the hotel and tragedy that no one speaks about. What she discovers uncovers decades of pain and cover-ups and misunderstandings.
The contrast between the two time periods is very interesting. Women’s rights and freedoms have expanded hugely, yet there are still attitudes and prejudices holding them back. Sometimes that’s an outside force and sometimes it’s what you believe about yourself. Rose compares her own recent difficulties – a hateful job, her Father’s dementia, the break-up with her boyfriend – with Darby’s and finds many uncomfortable parallels. How she handles this and learns to believe in herself and how she exposes the frequently hard choices women had to make in the fifties as well as the slow unveiling of the mystery makes for excellent reading.
I was a little disappointed in the ending – a couple too many coincidences and too many neatly tied up ends – but it was a lot of fun to read. I really liked the peek into living as a single girl in 1952 (not all innocence and Leave it to Beaver!) and the validation of the old women still living at the Barbizon in 2016. New York City played a big part in this book, with it’s unique and brash atmosphere. It’s not hard to imagine a wide-eye, Midwestern-raised Darby being initially overwhelmed and later charmed by everything the city had to offer.
What did you read this month? And how did you like it?
That’s the end of the 2017 Online Reading Challenge but don’t despair! The 2018 Online Reading Challenge begins in just a few days! Be sure to check back on January 3 for lots more information and book suggestions for the first month’s reading assignment! Or click here for a sneak peek!