The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis
Genre: General Fiction, Historical Fiction
The Dollhouse is a debut novel that takes place both present day, and with alternating chapters in 1952, in New York City. In the present day chapters of the story, we meet Rose Lewin, a former television reporter, who has been spending a lot of time questioning some of her life choices as of late. She has recently resigned from a very high profile, high paying television job to take what would be considered a big career set-back with a print reporting position. She’s also just found out that her relationship with her live in boyfriend has been completely turned upside down. Rose, desperate for a story to impress her new boss, sets her sights on a downstairs neighbor of hers, Ms. McLaughlin. Ms. McLaughlin is one of the many women who are original tenants of the building they share….moving in back when it was the “old” Barbizon Hotel aka: The Dollhouse. Rose is sure that this group of women who have lived on one particular floor in this building since the early 1950’s must have some stories to tell…especially after a doorman clues her in to a “tragedy” that occurred so many year ago. One that ended with a woman disfigured and another taking a fatal plunge off a upper story balcony.
“The Barbizon Hotel for Women, packed to the rafters with pretty little dolls. Just like you.”
Alternately…in 1952 New York city, we meet Darby McLaughlin, and Ohio native living on her own for the first time. She’s a young and naive girl who moved to the big city to attend secretarial school and live in the famous Barbizon Hotel. At the time, the Barbizon was THE place for young women to stay while living in New York city, trying to make their way as secretaries, models ,or actresses. Over the years, it was home to some very famous women such as; Sylvia Plath, Candace Bergen, and Joan Crawford. Shortly after arriving, Darby’s befriends a maid of the hotel named Esme. Esme slowly introduces Darby to a life that she could never previously have imagined; seedy jazz clubs, handsome musicians, as well as the dark and scary part of the city. Darby and Esme’s relationship becomes more complicated as Darby begins to hear rumors and off-hand warnings to stay away from Esme because she’s “trouble”. What begins as a friendship, ends in a deadly scuffle on the rooftop….but everyone has kept the true story of what happened that day hidden for the past 60 years.
I wasn’t quite sure what to think at the beginning of the book. Darby was a very whiny character for me and almost immediately she grated on my nerves. I didn’t necessarily care for Rose either….she wasn’t whiny like Darby, but I just didn’t find her very likable.
So I guess you’d assume that I wouldn’t end up liking the book…But I did, overall. I really enjoyed reading about the Barbizon Hotel, the women who stayed there, and the true history surrounding it. I also liked most of the secondary characters in the story. So between the interesting time period, history, storyline, and the secondary characters…it turned into a 3.5-4 star book for me.
I’d never heard of the Barbizon Hotel in NY before and I loved learning a little bit about it’s history and some of the famous women who stayed there while getting their start.
If you enjoy reading about different periods in American history, this will likely be an enjoyable read for you. There’s nothing really too heavy, or sad and the overall tone of the book is a positive uplifting one.
My Rating: 3.5/4 Stars
The Dollhouse – Amazon
*** I would like to thank NetGalley, Dutton Books, and Fiona Davis for the opportunity to read in exchange for my honest review***