LOVE the cover! This book looks very intriguing - I suggest you give it a look over.
THE DOLLHOUSE (on-sale August 23), is a debut novel by journalist Fiona Davis.
THE DOLLHOUSE tells the dual storylines of two women who, decades apart, are enthralled by the allure of the real-life Barbizon Hotel for Women, which, from 1927 to 1981, was an exclusive residence for young, single women who wanted to make it in the big city, including Liza Minelli, Grace Kelly, Joan Crawford, Joan Didion, and Sylvia Plath.
When Davis walked through the doors of the Barbizon 63 a few years ago, she was struck by the history of the building and conceived of a novel: partially set in the Barbizon of 1952, and partially in the condos of today. When Darby McLaughlin arrives at the Barbizon Hotel in 1952, secretarial school enrollment in hand, she is everything her modeling agency hall mates aren't: plain, self-conscious, homesick, and utterly convinced she doesn't belong. Yet when Darby befriends Esme, a Barbizon maid, she's introduced to an entirely new side of New York City: seedy downtown jazz clubs where the music is as addictive as the heroin that's used there, the startling sounds of bebop, and even the possibility of romance.
THE DOLLHOUSE is a gorgeous product of both Fiona Davis’ rich imagination and extensive research. To fully imagine the lives of Barbizon’s residents, she delved into the building’s history, scoured 1950s women’s magazines and copies of the New York Times, and interviewed several women who lived in the Barbizon in the 50s and 60s. She visited Lior Lev Sercarz’s legendary spice shop La Boîte to develop one character’s passion for blending spices and took a class at Lincoln Center’s Swing University to get a feel of downtown jazz clubs.
“The more I researched,” says Davis, “the more pressing it became to provide a glimpse into the way women were expected to live and behave in the early 50s, and how hard it was to break out of that mold. And since the conversation regarding women’s roles continues even today, I included parallel time lines in the book: one when a new arrival shows up at the Barbizon Hotel in 1952, and another that takes place in the Barbizon 63 Condo of today.”
The result is both a page-turning, vivid evocation of one of New York City’s most iconic residences and a celebration of the women of New York City’s past and present, brimming with all of the glamour, mystery, excitement, and unfettered opportunities that lay in the glittering city beyond.
A Conversation with Fiona Davis
Author of THE DOLLHOUSE
W hat c om pel led you to w ri te this bo ok?
I love the history of buildings, whether it’s wandering around a castle in England or the Tenement
Museum here in New York City. The Barbizon Hotel is iconic, a building that housed so many women’s stories, and I wanted to explore the way women’s roles have changed over time, the ways that they’ve stayed the same, as well as issues of class and status.
I checked out one of the renovated condos in the Barbizon building during my own apartment hunt, and was surprised at how much the place had changed from the 1950s black-and-white photos. When I learned that several long-time residents had been “grandfathered” into the building when it went condo, I realized I had the makings of a novel.
W hat kin d of resea rc h d id y ou do fo r the boo k?
The research process was a blast. In addition to reading everything I could get my hands on about that era, I interviewed several women who lived in the hotel in the 50s and 60s, and incorporated their experiences in the book. I also looked at several women’s magazines from the early 1950s and scoured old issues of The New York Times to get a sense of what day-to-day life was like back then.
New York City played a big part in my research. A visit to Lior Lev Sercarz’s legendary spice shop in
NYC – La Boîte – gave me the idea for developing one character’s passion for blending spices. And I took a class on bebop jazz at Swing University – part of Jazz at Lincoln Center – taught by the brilliant trombonist Vincent Gardner. Now that was heaven.
W hat a re s ome o f t he real loc ati ons an d p eople in t he boo k, a n d wha t a re ma de up?
Real locations include the Barbizon building, the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, and Hector’s Cafeteria, which was located at Broadway and Fiftieth Street. The Flatted Fifth nightclub from the book is a fictional mix of several clubs that once existed, like the Five Spot and the Half Note, as well as Small’s, which you can find on West Tenth Street in Greenwich Village. Most of the musicians mentioned in the novel are real, except for Stick Hawkins, who’s based on Thelonious Monk. I was desperate to include a scene of Monk performing, but his cabaret card was revoked in
1951 due to a narcotics arrest, which meant he was banned from playing in any of New York City’s clubs. I used Stick Hawkins as a stand-in, as that part of the book takes place in 1952. Unfortunately, Monk didn’t get his license back until 1957 - what a loss to the jazz fans of that time.
W hat w as i t li ke mov ing f ro m jo u rna lism to fic tio n w ri ti ng?
As a journalist, I love crafting a story from research and interviews, and when I decided to write this
book I approached it in the same way. But since it was fiction, I could use my imagination as well, and spin a story rooted in fact but not limited by it. I hope readers will get a glimpse into the way women were expected to live and behave in the early 50s, and appreciate how hard it was to break out of that. At the same time, I hope they’ll enjoy reading about how two generations of women can influence each other to stand up and be counted.