Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group - Dutton
Publication Date: August 1, 2017
Date Read: July 30, 2017
Length: 368 pages
Source: First to Read
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. The opportunity to be the female manager of The Dakota. 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.
I liked this book but I didn't love it. There were parts of the story that I really liked while other sections of the book didn't capture my attention as well. This was a book that was never really hard for me to set aside. I actually started reading it just before bed and never had any desire to read more than one chapter. The story was never one that made me want to put my other reads aside and was really a rather slow start. I didn't have a hard time finishing it but the book seemed to lack that something extra that really seems to grab my attention.
This story is told through dual timelines. The parts of the book that focus on Sara Smythe take place in 1884, while the section of the book from Bailey's point of view occur in 1985. As is often the case with this kind of story, I found myself enjoying one of the timelines much more than the other. Sara's story was really just so much more than Bailey's and anytime the book made the switch to 1985, I found myself wanting to put it down. There were a few times in the book when something that happened in 1985 would hint at an event that was going to happen in the earlier time period which took away some of the excitement.
There were things that I really liked about the story. Sara Smythe was a character that was easy to like. She was very capable and was able to come up with impossible solutions quite quickly. The descriptions in the book were really well done. It was so interesting to see this famous building just as it was starting to be lived in. There were a few times in the book that I was really quite surprised by the turn the story took.
While I thought that the 1985 time period was described quite well, I just had a hard time connecting with anything going on in that timeline. Bailey was not as easy to like as Sara. The Dakota's super and the neighbor downstairs were much easier to like. Bailey did grown on my by the end of the book but I still always preferred Sara's story.
I think that a lot of readers will enjoy this one a bit more than I did. I would recommend that anyone who is interested in this story to give it a try. I would not hesitate to read more from Fiona Davis in the future.
I received an advance reader edition of this book from Penguin Publishing Group - Dutton via First to Read.
About the Author
Fiona Davis lives in New York City, and is a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The Dollhouse was her first novel.