Set in NYC’s historic Barbizon Hotel for Women, now a luxury residential condominium, Fiona Davis’ entertaining debut novel, The Dollhouse, weaves together two stories about young women living during different decades. The first concerns Rose, a former TV news celebrity forced out of her job, who now works at a start up website run by a young hipster. Rose recently vacated her beloved apartment and moved into the Barbizon with her lover, after he left his wife. Work and relationship difficulties soon compel Rose to look for ways to improve her career while being faced with the possibility of having no place to live. From the hotel doorman, she learns a number of single older women have lived at the Barbizon for decades because of rent control. She thinks that if she interviews them it would impress her boss. and make a great human interest story. Rose meets Darby, an elderly woman setting out to walk her dog, but, Darby, a reclusive tenant, wants nothing to do with questions Rose asks about her life. An unfortunate death at the Barbizon years ago involving Darby could be the reason she hides her scarred face under a veil.
Once the author sets up her present day story she returns to the 1950s when Darby arrives at the Barbizon from Ohio to attend the Katherine Gibbs secretarial School. She quickly learns that the secretarial students play second fiddle to the elegant Eileen Ford models who also live at the Barbizon but she makes friends with a Hispanic maid named Esme who has dreams of being a movie star. Esme takes Darby under her wing introducing her to the New York jazz scene.
Both women have personal problems they need to overcome. The manner in which the author brings the story to resolution while sharing historic facts and letting each woman search for her independence is well done. Their side stories and the challenges they faced seem quite real. The manner in which they each navigate the prejudices and expectations that have been put upon women over the decades is a testament to the resilience of all women. This is a quick read that uncovers the inside story of life in an iconic New York landmark. If you enjoy this book, you may also like The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell, another debut author whose story about New York life in the 1920s is captivating and mysterious. Read more about it here: http://blog.heightslibrary.org/a-well-told-story-with-an-unexpected-ending/