Contemporary, Historical Fiction, Mystery/Thriller, Romance

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

Before reading this novel, I had no idea of the historical significance of the Barbizon Hotel. Sure, I’ve heard about Sylvia Plath and Jaon Crawford, but I had no idea that they lived in a women’s-only hotel! This just made me more interested in reading this story (even though the story has nothing to do with any famous women)!

When Darby McLaughlin arrives at the Barbizon Hotel in 1952 to begin her schooling at a secretarial school, she is housed along with girls who work for the Ford modeling agency. It soon becomes clear that she stands out for all the wrong reasons; her plain features, and self-consciousness make her a pariah among her hall mates. Darby finds a true friend in Esme, a Barbizon maid, who shows Darby a whole new side of New York City, full of seedy downtown jazz clubs, with their addictive music and heroin. 

Over half a century later, the Barbizon has been turned into a condo, with the older female guests staying on in rent-controlled apartments. However, rumors of Darby’s involvement in a deadly skirmish with a hotel maid in 1952 still float around among the residents. The history of the building combined with this piece of gossip is too intoxication for journalist Rose Lewin to resist, especially once she moves into the Barbizon. As Rose begins to investigate deeper into Darby’s life, the ethical line begins to grow murky. What both women can be sure of is that life will never be the same for them after this. 

What an absolutely fascinating read! I loved everything about this story and was absolutely incapable of putting it down! Where do I even begin?

Well, first of all, I love the characters. Every single one showed me a unique side to New York City either in 1952 or in 2016. Darby, Esme, and Rose each have their own personality and voice, making them not only easy to distinguish but easy to connect with as well. I loved how each character changed throughout the story, and it was done so tastefully that it never felt as if one character shone more than the other. I liked reading about their interactions with others and the way in which their relationship to New York City itself changed as the story progressed.

I loved that the story continually shifted from past to present, and that I was able to glimpse life back in the 1950s, a time period that I am wholly unfamiliar with save for references in the book. The author did a fantastic job of making Barbizon come alive to the reader, even though I didn’t know the first thing about this historic building! It made me wish I could have gone and lived there during that time period and experienced everything first hand!

I enjoyed the romance aspects of the story, which is quite surprising since I usually don’t comment on this area. It was done right in this novel, both in 1952 and in 2016, and I’m not going to say another word on this topic for fear of ruining it!

I could go on and on about all of the wonderful things about this story! It is a tale about friendship, feeling at home in your own skin, and making difficult life decisions in the face of adversity. It talks about misunderstandings, trust, and the need to be loved by those around you. The author took these themes and seamlessly integrated a vibrant backdrop without taking anything away from the story or the characters, and for all of these reasons and more, this novel is going to get 5 stars from me!

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