I have been waiting for this book to come out for months, having enjoyed Fiona Davis’ first book The Dollhouse and anticipated a good read, I wasn’t disappointed! I usually don’t like plots that go from one time to another, this one begins in 1884 and then travels to 1985, this is done in different chapters. In this case, it works extremely well and brings the story to contemporary times.
We begin at a luxury hotel in England where our protagonist, Sara Smythe, is head housekeeper and sees a little girl balancing on a window ledge, rushes to save her (which she does), the father of the little girl, Theodore Camden, is so grateful he offers Sara a position at the soon to be opened Dakota, in New York where he is one of the architects and project manager. She thinks the offer is not sincere but because she saved his daughter. Shortly after Camden, his wife and children return to New York, Sara receives a ticket and travel expenses to join them. Without much hesitation, she boards her ship and sails for New York and her new life….by the way, all this is in the first few pages of the book!
When she arrives at the Dakota she is stunned by the size, the beauty of the structure and the location, in the middle of nowhere, remember this is 1884. Sara finds herself as managerette (don’t you love this title!) and totally in charge of basically everything. She is very much up to the task and the new apartment dwelling opens beautifully. Naturally, she lives in the building as does Theo and his family.
We then meet our other protagonist, Bailey Camden, a modern young woman who is an interior decorator and has just been released from rehab where she was treated for alcoholism and drug addiction. Her boss has taken care of her rehab expenses and promptly fires her. Her “cousin” (are they really cousins!!!!???) and friend Melinda, is rehabbing an apartment in the Dakota with the idea of making it very modern much to Bailey’s chagrin. As part of their agreement, Melinda allows Bailey to live in the apartment during the renovation along with the promise of her fee when Melinda turns 30 in a few weeks and receives her substantial inheritance. If you have ever been in the building you know it is tradition personified and still considered a prestigious building, it is a stunner.
Both stories have lives of their own but, of course, mesh together as well. We meet many characters along the way, learn about New York as it begins to become the City we all know and love by learning about its architecture, go inside an insane asylum (not my favorite part of the story, I felt it was a bit long), the glamour of the Gilded Age and the excess of the 1980’s New York scene. My take away was how talented women, in any age, with the drive, the know how, skills and willingness to succeed do so. A feminist story, perhaps, but more one of human nature, self-worth and lots and lots of intrigue along the way, romance, yes that too!. Did I like the book, yes, indeed I did!
From the last paragraph on the fly leaf of the book….”A century apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted and struggled against the golden excess of their respective ages—for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the nightlife’s free-flowing drinks and cocaine—and take refuge in the Upper West Side’s gilded fortress.”