One of the more interesting buildings and stories in New York City is the Barbizon Hotel for women located on Upper East 63rd Street. Now called Barbizon 63, I remember reading about the residence for young single women that was open from 1927 until 1981. Lauren Bacall, Grace Kelly, Liza Minnelli, Cybill Shepherd and Candice Bergen were all Barbizon girls. Sylvia Plath lived there for a month during her Mademoiselle magazine internship, and shortly before her nervous breakdown, she chronicled her stay in THE BELL JAR.
Nicknamed “the dollhouse” for the women who lived in the building, author Fiona Davis has written a novel about the Barbizon, titled THE DOLLHOUSE (Dutton). It blends the stories of two women, one from the 50’s, the other present day. Between its urban lore and beautiful cover, expect to see THE DOLLHOUSE head straight up the bestseller list.
It’s 1952, when Darby McLaughlin leaves the midwest for New York City, takes residence in the Barbizon Hotel, and attends the Katherine Gibbs secretarial school. Alternating with her story is Rose Lewin, a journalist in 2016, who lived in the converted Barbizon condos, but had to move out, because her boyfriend went back to his wife and family. One of the doormen tells Rose about a scandal that took place at the Barbizon back in the 50’s, and immediately Rose is investigating fact from fiction.
Present day, several women have been grandfathered into the Barbizon condos and remain in rent-controlled-residences, including, Darby McLaughlin who is rumored to have been involved in the deadly scandal. Rose Lewin is determined to get the reclusive Darby to tell her everything, but in the process discovers some very unflattering things about herself.
Fiona Davis creates very complex characters in Rose and Darby. Darby’s mother sent her to New York City to become a secretary, so she could take care of herself financially, and perhaps win a husband, but she chose to stay single. Rose Lewin hoped to married a rich man, but with her meal ticket gone, she struggles to stay a float financially. Both are strong women that readers can admire for their determination and guile in any era.
Davis highlights past and present New York City, taking readers all over the city from Brooklyn to Harlem, eating at 50’s cafeterias and cafes, listening to jazz musician greats in nightclubs and cabarets and creating a mystery and love story all in one. Ms. Davis’ debut novel blends contemporary and mid-century narratives to create an entertaining read. Readers will be intrigued by the twists and turns of the mystery, but I was most captured by the history of the building and time frame. I recommend THE DOLLHOUSE to all readers. It’s a treat!
Thanks to Fiona’s wonderful publicist, Kathleen, we have one copy of THE DOLLHOUSE to giveaway. Just tell us what your favorite building is in New York City. If you haven’t been in the City certainly you’ve seen pictures. We’ll announce a winner, Saturday, Sept. 24th. Good luck and have a wonderful weekend.
VINTAGE PHOTOS Curated by Diksha B @ItsDiksha