Publisher: Dutton Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Fiona Davis, author of The Dollhouse, returns with a compelling novel about the thin lines between love and loss, success and ruin, passion and madness, all hidden behind the walls of The Dakota, New York City’s most famous residence.
After a failed apprenticeship, working her way up to head housekeeper of a posh London hotel is more than Sara Smythe ever thought she’d make of herself. But when a chance encounter with Theodore Camden, one of the architects of the grand New York apartment house The Dakota, leads to a job offer, her world is suddenly awash in possibility–no mean feat for a servant in 1884. The opportunity to move to America, where a person can rise above one’s station. The opportunity to be the female manager of The Dakota, which promises to be the greatest apartment house in the world. And the opportunity to see more of Theo, who understands Sara like no one else . . . and is living in The Dakota with his wife and three young children.
In 1985, Bailey Camden is desperate for new opportunities. Fresh out of rehab, the former party girl and interior designer is homeless, jobless, and penniless. Two generations ago, Bailey’s grandfather was the ward of famed architect Theodore Camden. But the absence of a genetic connection means Bailey won’t see a dime of the Camden family’s substantial estate. Instead, her -cousin- Melinda–Camden’s biological great-granddaughter–will inherit almost everything. So when Melinda offers to let Bailey oversee the renovation of her lavish Dakota apartment, Bailey jumps at the chance, despite her dislike of Melinda’s vision. The renovation will take away all the character and history of the apartment Theodore Camden himself lived in . . . and died in, after suffering multiple stab wounds by a madwoman named Sara Smythe, a former Dakota employee who had previously spent seven months in an insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island.
One hundred years apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted by and struggle against the golden excess of their respective ages–for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the free-flowing drinks and cocaine in the nightclubs of New York City–and take refuge and solace in the Upper West Side’s gilded fortress. But a building with a history as rich–and often tragic–as The Dakota’s can’t hold its secrets forever, and what Bailey discovers in its basement could turn everything she thought she knew about Theodore Camden–and the woman who killed him–on its head.
With rich historical detail, nuanced characters, and gorgeous prose, Fiona Davis once again delivers a compulsively readable novel that peels back the layers of not only a famed institution, but the lives –and lies–of the beating hearts within.
Last summer I had the pleasure of reading Davis’ debut, The Dollhouse and I was so impressed. I was never a huge fan of historical fiction before I read her books and I have her to thank for opening my eyes to yet another amazing genre. I’ve read so much more HF this past year and I don’t know if I would’ve without reading The Dollhouse, so thanks Fiona Davis for expanding my world!
Having been such a fan of her debut I had that nervous feeling I always feel when I’m about to read an authors sophmore book. Well, I shouldn’t have worried at all, I ended up liking this one even more than her first, it was mesmerizing, full of detailed historical descriptions, an amazing setting and two characters that I fully connected with.
This is told using dual narratives set one hundred years apart. Sara is a thirty year old woman who moves from England to New York for a job opportunity in 1884 and Bailey is also thirty and living in NYC in 1985. Both of the timelines were equally fascinating for me, they were both mainly set in the famed Dakota Apartments and Davis truly brought this wonderful setting to life. Most of the book was historically accurate and the liberties she took fictionally were perfectly executed. I really felt like I was beside both women in the Dakota, it was such an immersive, engrossing setting.
Sara and Bailey had many similarities despite being from two completely different worlds. They both have struggles and difficulties to overcome and I was rooting for them the whole way. I found myself sympathizing easily with both of them and couldn’t wait to find out what would wind up happening with their lives.
This is one of those books that will truly sweep you away to another time, there is such a strong sense of place that really worked well for me. While this isn’t a traditional mystery there were some surprises along the way that add another layer to the wonderful plot. If you loved The Dollhouse you’ll like this one as well, and if you haven’t read it but enjoy HF what are you waiting for?!
Overall rating: 5/5