The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis
The Barbizon Hotel for Women was labeled The Dollhouse in the 1950s, as it housed many young, attractive, and single girls looking for their Prince Charming. However, mixed in with the Ford Models there was also a floor filled with girls who went to Katherine Gibbs secretary school. They may have been considered more of the ‘dowdy’ gals who would certainly have to work for the rest of their lives, but it it is within this group we meet one of our main characters – Darby. Darby is a woman who came to NYC in the 1950s right from high school and was intent on carving out a career for herself within the writing field. She often felt disconnected with the Ford girls but was able to find solace in Esme, a maid employed at the hotel. Esme shook up Darby’s world and introduced her to jazz nightclubs, and things the Ford girls would deem ‘unsavory’. The reader of The Dollhouse comes to learn more about Darby and Esme’s friendship (and murder of one of them!) through another main character Rose.
Rose’s narrative takes place current day in NYC and she is also living in the Barbizon Hotel, which has been changed into condos. Rose is a journalist who is intent on uncovering the secrets that lie behind the pasts of the “4th Floor Women” aka the few leftover women from the 1950s. Through a gossipy doorman, Rose learns the history of the old building and the death that occurred from a fight between Esme and Darby. Rose begins to interview “4th Floor ladies” and feels connected with these lonely women, as she has recently been dumped by her power hungry boyfriend and has no idea what her next steps are. This novel shows you although time may have passed, women will always struggle with the common themes of: love vs.career, feeling secure in oneself, and how to succeed against the odds. Ultimately the novel ends with Rose meeting one of our aged main characters (I don’t want to spoil it by saying who) and discovering who was the murderer and who was the victim.
I enjoyed the alternating chapters and the fact it took the perspective from Darby in the 1950s and Rose in current day. Also, the author’s rich descriptions of the clothing and scenes from the 1950s transports the reader back. Below is one of my favorite quotes from the book that verbalizes a fear young women may face:
Rose defending why the Barbizon story must be told:
‘It’s about losing people you love, being alone in a big city with nothing more than the four walls of your apartment to protect you. Ending up lonely and bitter with no one around.”