Monday, January 2, 2017
By Fiona Davis
Dutton, 2016. 289 pgs. Historical Fiction
Rose Lewin, a journalist whose professional and personal lives are on shaky ground, distracts herself by becoming obsessed with the history of the New York City apartment building she has recently moved into. The famous Barbizon Hotel housed a host of aspiring young women in the 1950s. Girls trying to establish themselves as secretaries, models, and editors roamed the halls and a few even remain today.
Rose’s downstairs neighbor, Darby McLaughlin, is one such resident and when Rose hears rumors of her involvement in a decades old tragedy she sees its potential as a killer news story. The narrative also follows Darby from her move into the Barbizon Hotel through her growing friendship with a talented and ambitious maid, Esme. Esme pulls Darby deep into the seedy world of bebop music far from the secretarial pool her mother expects her to join with disastrous consequences.
Multigenerational women’s dramas have become fairly common. But what sets The Dollhouse apart is a vibrant sense of place and a well crafted mystery concerning Darby’s past. The struggle Darby faced as she worked to establish herself in a post WWII world is described admirably with surprising parallels to Rose’s present day trials and aspirations. A lovely combination of historical fiction and women’s literature.