The Magnolia Palace
by Fiona Davis
City residents and/or tourists have surely passed the Frick museum on Fifth Avenue many times. (Currently, however the site is closed for renovations with the collection moved to the old Whitney Museum on Madison). The art that Frick collected is magnificent and include works by Rembrandt and many others. Seeing them is well worth a trip.
But, how much do you know about Frick himself? He was one of those Americans who, like Morgan, Carnegie and others, made huge fortunes and lived luxurious lives. This historical novel by Fiona Davis imagines aspects of his life primarily through the stories of the very real Helen Frick, his daughter, and another character Miss Lillian who is based on a real person.
Mill Lillian, also known as Angelique, was an artist’s model and the one whose sittings were most desired. The real Angelique adorns many New York City landmarks. The book will provide a good sense of where to look for them. Like the true personage, Lillian faces some difficulties. In the novel, these lead her to a fortuitous opportunity as Miss Helen’s private secretary.
The relationship between Helen and Lillian forms the basis for one story line in the book. Through this narrative, readers get a bird’s eye view of what life in the Frick household was like for both the upstairs and downstairs residents. Readers learn about a tragedy in the family and its on-going repercussions. They also learn why the novel is called The Magnolia Palace.
In a more modern timeline, set in the sixties, readers spend time with a young model who becomes snowbound in the mansion following a photo shoot. She spends time with a young Black intern. Together they make some surprising discoveries. Will the two narratives come together? Pick up the book to find out.
Lovers of historical fiction and those who have enjoyed other titles by Ms. Davis will want to take a look at The Magnolia Palace. The author’s notes what was true and where literary license occurred.
While not my favorite Fiona Davis book, I did enjoy this one. Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own. I give this one four stars.