Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Review: The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis

Title: The Masterpiece
Author: Fiona Davis
Published: August 2018, Dutton
Format: ARC Paperback, 368 pages
Source: Publisher

In her latest captivating novel, nationally bestselling author Fiona Davis takes readers into the glamorous lost art school within Grand Central Terminal, where two very different women, fifty years apart, strive to make their mark on a world set against them.
For the nearly nine million people who live in New York City, Grand Central Terminal is a crown jewel, a masterpiece of design. But for Clara Darden and Virginia Clay, it represents something quite different.

For Clara, the terminal is the stepping stone to her future, which she is certain will shine as the brightly as the constellations on the main concourse ceiling. It is 1928, and twenty-five-year-old Clara is teaching at the lauded Grand Central School of Art. A talented illustrator, she has dreams of creating cover art for Vogue, but not even the prestige of the school can override the public's disdain for a "woman artist." Brash, fiery, confident, and single-minded--even while juggling the affections of two men, a wealthy would-be poet and a brilliant experimental painter--Clara is determined to achieve every creative success. But she and her bohemian friends have no idea that they'll soon be blindsided by the looming Great Depression, an insatiable monster with the power to destroy the entire art scene. And even poverty and hunger will do little to prepare Clara for the greater tragedy yet to come.

Nearly fifty years later, in 1974, the terminal has declined almost as sharply as Virginia Clay's life. Full of grime and danger, from the smoke-blackened ceiling to the pickpockets and drug dealers who roam the floor, Grand Central is at the center of a fierce lawsuit: Is the once-grand building a landmark to be preserved, or a cancer to be demolished? For Virginia, it is simply her last resort. Recently divorced, she has just accepted a job in the information booth in order to support herself and her college-age daughter, Ruby. But when Virginia stumbles upon an abandoned art school within the terminal and discovers a striking watercolor hidden under the dust, her eyes are opened to the elegance beneath the decay. She embarks on a quest to find the artist of the unsigned masterpiece--an impassioned chase that draws Virginia not only into the battle to save Grand Central but deep into the mystery of Clara Darden, the famed 1920s illustrator who disappeared from history in 1931.

My thoughts: I simply adore reading Fiona Davis's books - I love the way she takes an iconic building in one of my favorite cities in the world, NYC - and brings it to life, giving us the history in such an engaging story that you can't help but feel part of. In this case, she brings the old Grand Central Terminal and it's long-forgotten art school to life.

It's been a long time since I've been to Grand Central Terminal myself, but as I was reading this book, I felt as if I was there. The vivid descriptions that Fiona Davis uses just transport you there, and I definitely know that on one of my next trips into the city, I will be making a stop here just to visit this iconic building and all it has to offer.

Once again, Fiona Davis uses the dual narrative to tell her story, and I love it. I was completely engaged in both story lines - and I love how she is able to take these two threads and weave them together at some point. It is done so naturally. The two main characters, Clara from the 1920's and Virginia from 1974, are both down on their luck, but make the best of their circumstances as they see fit. They are strong, resilient women, unwilling to let anything keep them down. 

I loved all the little tidbits of history that we pick up in this book about Grand Central Terminal itself. I was not aware there was an art school there at any point, nor did I know that it was heading towards demise in the 70s unless it can be proven to be worthy of landmark status. I'm so glad it's still around...what a loss it would have been had it been demolished and turned into something else!

In case you can't tell, I am obsessed with Fiona Davis and her writing. She is absolutely on my must-read list and I tell just about anyone looking for a good historical read to pick up her books. She is certainly a treasure I am glad to have discovered and I am anxiously awaiting her next book, due out this summer!


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