The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis is such a fascinating story! This is a story about Rose Lewin who in 2016 moved into the Barbizon Hotel in New York City with her newly divorced boyfriend and Darby McLaughlin who in 1952, moved from Ohio into the hotel to attend classes at the Katherine Gibbs secretarial school.
Barbizon Hotel had a long history as a safe and secure place for young women who came to New York City to study, look for a job or look for a husband. Over the years it eventually was turned into condos.
Rose, a former network reporter takes a job that is a step down so she can be with her boyfriend. As she is leaving the building, she meets an unfriendly elderly resident in the elevator. She finds out that a few of the long-term tenants of the former hotel are living on the fourth floor. She learns that the unfriendly woman was involved in an accidental death that took place back in the 50’s.
As Rose starts to investigate the accident from the 1950’s, we learn about Darby’s life at the Barbizon Hotel where she wasn’t treated nicely by the women on her floor and how she becomes friends with the hotel’s maid named Esme. Esme introduces Darby to the darker side of New York City.
The story switches back and forth between Darby’s story from the 1950’s and Rose in 2016. It shows how their lives progress and eventually intertwine. I remember reading about rooming houses in New York where women lives with a housemother. The Barbizon hosted famous women like Sylvia Plath, Liza Minelli, Candace Bergen and Joan Crawford.
I loved this book and found it so fascinating. It was hard to put it down. Fiona does a great job pulling the reader into the lives of the women at Barbizon Hotel.
I was able to read this book through the First to Read Program from Penguin Random House.
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 1950’s, 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.
Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat