Monday, July 31, 2017

Review: The Address by Fiona Davis

Title: The Address
Author: Fiona Davis
Published: August 2017, Dutton Books
Format: ARC Paperback, 368 pages
Source: Publisher

Fiona Davis, author of The Dollhouse, returns with a compelling novel about the thin lines between love and loss, success and ruin, passion and madness, all hidden behind the walls of The Dakota, New York City's most famous residence.

After a failed apprenticeship, working her way up to head housekeeper of a posh London hotel is more than Sara Smythe ever thought she'd make of herself. But when a chance encounter with Theodore Camden, one of the architects of the grand New York apartment house The Dakota, leads to a job offer, her world is suddenly awash in possibility--no mean feat for a servant in 1884. The opportunity to move to America, where a person can rise above one's station. The opportunity to be the female manager of The Dakota, which promises to be the greatest apartment house in the world. And the opportunity to see more of Theo, who understands Sara like no one else . . . and is living in The Dakota with his wife and three young children.

In 1985, Bailey Camden is desperate for new opportunities. Fresh out of rehab, the former party girl and interior designer is homeless, jobless, and penniless. Two generations ago, Bailey's grandfather was the ward of famed architect Theodore Camden. But the absence of a genetic connection means Bailey won't see a dime of the Camden family's substantial estate. Instead, her -cousin- Melinda--Camden's biological great-granddaughter--will inherit almost everything. So when Melinda offers to let Bailey oversee the renovation of her lavish Dakota apartment, Bailey jumps at the chance, despite her dislike of Melinda's vision. The renovation will take away all the character and history of the apartment Theodore Camden himself lived in . . . and died in, after suffering multiple stab wounds by a madwoman named Sara Smythe, a former Dakota employee who had previously spent seven months in an insane asylum on Blackwell's Island.

One hundred years apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted by and struggle against the golden excess of their respective ages--for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the free-flowing drinks and cocaine in the nightclubs of New York City--and take refuge and solace in the Upper West Side's gilded fortress. But a building with a history as rich--and often tragic--as The Dakota's can't hold its secrets forever, and what Bailey discovers in its basement could turn everything she thought she knew about Theodore Camden--and the woman who killed him--on its head.

With rich historical detail, nuanced characters, and gorgeous prose, Fiona Davis once again delivers a compulsively readable novel that peels back the layers of not only a famed institution, but the lives --and lies--of the beating hearts within.

My thoughts: I first became a fan of Fiona Davis's work after reading and loving her debut novel, The Dollhouse. I absolutely loved the way she intertwined the history of a famous building in NYC, The Barbizon Hotel, with a fictional tale and she does it once again in her latest book. This time she centers her story on The Dakota, and once again, I found myself completely captivated.

Fiona Davis definitely writes the dual-narrative very well. I love the way she is able take the two storylines and develop a story the eventually ties them together. Sara and Bailey were equally intriguing and compelling characters. They each had the flaws, for sure, but it's so much more than that. They are each constrained by issues of their times. For Sara, it's a matter of being a woman during the time she lives - she's living a male-dominated society and isn't quite sure where she fits. For Bailey, she is dealing with her addictions and learning to overcome all that that entails. For each, it is like being trapped in a prison to some extent.

I wasn't quite sure how these two women would, in the end, connect, and how the murder of Theodore Camden would factor in. It's Bailey that starts to unravel the details of the murder, while Sara's story leads us up to the moments of the actual events. I loved how this all played out. Little by little we get the whole story and I was on the edge of my seat as it seemed that each time a little more of the story was revealed, the book switched narrators...but it was all good - all the pieces were slowly fitting together. This was such a good reveal and while I was trying to put it all together myself before I got to the end, I didn't guess it all and I was pleasantly surprised with how it all played out!

I admit that I was not familiar with The Dakota, New York City's first luxury apartment house, and I have probably walked by it many times while in the city without even realizing it. I have never been to Randal's Island which is what Blackwell's Island is now called. I definitely plan on making a point of visiting both on one of my next trips to the city - as well as walking by where The Barbizon Hotel (from Davis's previous book) is located - again, I have probably walked by this building without even realizing it's significance. 

I love reading books that make me want to dig more into the history of something and Fiona Davis has done just that. Not only am I intrigued by the Gilded Age of New York and how life was during that time, but I also want to know more about the Asylum at Blackwell's Island. Who were the women that were sent there and for what reasons? And I definitely want to read more about that reporter, Nellie that Fiona references - I had no idea when I was reading about that part in the book that that was based in reality. I think I just added a whole bunch of books to my reading list - and nonfiction books to boot!

This book was so engaging and immersive. I found myself completely lost in both worlds that Fiona created and wanted more of each. I cannot wait to see what comes next from Fiona Davis - she is definitely a must-read author for me. I cannot recommend her books enough!!!


1 comment

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