Book Review: The Address
By: Fiona Davis
Published By: Dutton Books
Publication Date: August 1, 2017
Page Count: 354
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via NetGalley
Adult - Historical Fiction
I love reading novels that have two timelines - one in the past and one in a more recent decade. I find such delight in trying to piece together how the two narratives are connected. I haven't read Fiona Davis' work before, but the idea of a novel with two historical timelines and a famous NYC setting drew me in.
The Dakota was one of the first apartment residences in NYC. I have always thought of apartment living as normal for this city, but in the past that was not always the case. Sure, tenement buildings were common, but the wealthy and middle class tended to live in single family homes as land was not at the premium in the city that it is today. Visionaries predicted that a market existed for a residence like The Dakota. I wasn't familiar with the building, but some brief research turned up a treasure trove of tidbits. I had no idea the building was home to John Lennon and that his murder occurred outside its southern entrance. There are also a number of other famous residents throughout the building's history, but the novel only alludes to many of them as they are not the focus of the story.
Sara Smythe was working at a posh hotel in London when she is offered a position at The Dakota. Sara makes the choice to leave behind her native England to take a chance on making a name for herself in the United States. She is set to run the housekeeping staff, but events result in her becoming the manager of the The Dakota, a task she isn't sure she is suited for, but feels unable to turn down. Sara's one of those characters I admire for her work ethic and attention to detail. She finds herself spending more and more time with architect, Theo Camden, who helped design the building's interior and hopes to open his own firm. Theo and his family will also be taking up residence in The Dakota once it officially opens.
Sara's portion of the story reveals details about the beginnings of the Dakota, life during the Guilded Age in one of America's largest cities, and social norms for the classes. I also learned more about the role gender played on the lives of people in this time period. Sara's life is dictated by her standing in society and her gender. Barriers keep her from experiencing a destiny purely of her own making.
The more modern storyline is also a historical one as it occurs in the mid-1980's. Bailey Camden is renovating an apartment in the Dakota and questioning her connection to the famous family. Her grandfather was a ward of the family, but she doesn't know much more than that. The connection has never come with many perks other than a relationship with her cousins of sorts. Its this connection that gives her a lifeline after she leaves rehab for a drug and alcohol addiction. The renovation will help Bailey get back on her feet and will hopefully finance the opening her own design firm as she's seen as unemployable by the other high powered NYC firms after her behavior while intoxicated.
As Bailey continues to learn more about the hotel as she works on the renovation, she also finds herself piecing together the tragic backstory of the Camden family.
I loved spending my Thanksgiving Break with this novel as I felt transported to the beautiful and historical Dakota. I would love to see the building in person now that I have read this novel. My mind has been opened to the fascinating historical elements and events that construct the fiber of New York City. I've honestly never wanted to know much about the city's past. The city that seems to hold so much magic for so many never truly appealed to me, but The Address has me questioning if perhaps I was a bit too hasty in that assessment. I didn't appreciate the city when I visited as a teen, but I'm hoping as an adult I would see it in a different light which would allow me to appreciate the history.
If you're looking for a historical read with a mystery element, I'd highly recommend this one. It's also a great read during the holiday season as it will have you evaluating the true meaning of family and the lengths we go to for the ones we love.
One Last Gripe: I found some elements to be a bit predictable, but the historical details and amazing setting overshadowed the predictability.
Favorite Thing About This Book: The setting
First Sentence: The sight of a child teetering on the window ledge of room 510 turned Sara's world upside down.
Favorite Character: Sara
Least Favorite Character: Melinda
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, where a person can rise above one's station. The opportunity to be the female manager of The Dakota, which promises to be the greatest apartment house in the world. 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.
With rich historical detail, nuanced characters, and gorgeous prose, Fiona Davis once again delivers a compulsively readable novel that peels back the layers of not only a famed institution, but the lives --and lies--of the beating hearts within.