Fiona Davis has written a number of historical fiction titles. Each book is set in an iconic NYC landmark and has a dual narrative structure and timeline. In this, the strongest of her novels yet, the reader spends time at the main New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.
The story in the past begins around 1913. The iconic library has just opened. The superintendent, Jack; his wife, Laura; and their two children, Pearl and Harry actually live in an apartment inside the enormous new library. Jack, in addition to his job, is writing what he hopes will be the great American novel. Laura, up until now, a woman who married for love and cares for her family wants more. She enrolls as one of very few women at the Columbia School of Journalism. Jack and Laura’s desire for fulfillment leads to conflict, misunderstandings and tragedy. The fallout from their actions influences the story that takes place in the 1990s which is about their descendants.
In the present, Sadie works as a curator at the very same library on 42nd Street. Her love of all things bookish is apparent. Under Sadie’s watch, volumes are being stolen from the library. How do the past and present collide? Read the book to find out.
I learned a lot about collectable and antiquarian books as well as the library through reading this novel. I now know more about valuable books and how they are both vulnerable and protected. Clearly Ms. Davis has been meticulous in her research and loves her subject.
There are themes to this novel in addition to the mystery, romance and depictions of life at the Columbia School of Journalism, the Village and the library. What sacrifices are women asked to make and when are they too much? How much is owed to a family? Can we be forgiven for mistakes? How important is it to have a relationship and to take risks for it? Who should define what a person wants in life?
Ms. Davis does an excellent job of connecting the two narratives. The book is a page turner that will be eagerly embraced by her loyal readers and will also be enjoyed by those new to the author.
Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this title in exchange for an honest review. I recommend it very highly.
Also read and reviewed by me:
Fiona Davis sets her novels in iconic New York City locations. She has told stories set at the Barbizon Hotel for Women, The Dakota, Grand Central Station and now at the Chelsea Hotel. In each of her three prior novels, the narrative took place during two eras; in this book, the author follows two characters in the same time period. They are actress Maxine and would be actress and playwright, Hazel.
The novel opens with Hazel joining a USO troop in Italy during WWII. These scenes were so evocative, both in terms of the war and the emotions raised for the performers. This beginning left me feeling very excited about the rest of the book except…for a while, I then found the narrative less engaging. However, round about chapter 18 there was a twist and I again became very involved in the story and the characters’ lives. It is worth sticking with the book in my opinion.
Much of this book centers on the activities of HUAC, the House Un-Amercian Activities Committee. Who is a Communist? Who is being targeted unfairly? Should we be rooting people out and encouraging them to turn on others? What are the consequences to everyone when a government sponsored witch hunt is going on? You will think about these issues as you read and may also find the subject relevant in our current political climate.
In addition to HUAC, the reader spends time at the Chelsea Hotel, the Tonys, on Broadway and more. There are actors, government workers, names dropped of famous and real Chelsea Hotel denizens and more. Most of all, readers will connect with Hazel and Maxine, their friendship and its challenges.
All in all, this was a good read. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my e-galley. All opinions are my own.
]This is Fiona Davis’s third New York City based historical novel and it is a winner! I have not read her earlier books,The Address and The Dollhouse, but may well do so now.
The Masterpiece has a dual narrative structure, one story is set in the 1920s-30’s and the other in the 1970s. The stories of Clara Darden and Virginia Clay overlap and intersect.
Darden is an illustrator, teacher and painter in the earlier era while Virginia, a divorcee, begins working at Grand Central around the time when the landmark battle was underway. Each woman has a backstory, relationships and challenges, all of which are well depicted.
Did you know that in the 1920’s there was an art school right in Grand Central? Did you know that Sargent was one of the founders? Are you interested in historical preservation? Do you enjoy a story with a plot twist? If you can answer yes to any, or all of these questions, I highly recommend this book.