STARRED REVIEW
August 23, 2016

A layered debut mystery links two women across decades

By Fiona Davis
When Rose Lewin’s boss pushes her for story ideas, she can’t help but look to her own residence. The space she inhabits is a newly renovated condo. But half a century ago, her New York City apartment got its start as a room in the Barbizon Hotel for Women. Although the building has been updated—with prices to prove it—a few of the building’s 1950s residents still call it home. These women, now in their 80s, are sequestered away on the fourth floor. There’s got to be a story there, Rose thinks, and she convinces her boss to let her dig in.
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When Rose Lewin’s boss pushes her for story ideas, she can’t help but look to her own residence. The space she inhabits is a newly renovated condo. But half a century ago, her New York City apartment got its start as a room in the Barbizon Hotel for Women. Although the building has been updated—with prices to prove it—a few of the building’s 1950s residents still call it home. These women, now in their 80s, are sequestered away on the fourth floor. There’s got to be a story there, Rose thinks, and she convinces her boss to let her dig in.

But making an in-depth, historical piece resonate with readers in a digital era isn’t going to be as easy as she thinks. Although she was drawn to the unfortunately named WordMerge because it promised to be a sort of multimedia New Yorker, the realities of media on the internet are closing in. Rose must find a captivating angle to keep the story alive.

And she’s convinced she would have just that in the fourth floor’s Darby McLaughlin—if only Darby would speak to her. The story becomes an obsession, distracting Rose from the job and romance falling to pieces around her.

In The Dollhouse, debut novelist Fiona Davis begins with a simple premise. But as the book advances, through alternating looks at Rose’s world in 2016 and Darby’s in 1952, the story becomes increasingly complex. Davis layers on relationships and intrigue, while building tension through her story structure. Each glimpse at Darby’s world leaves both Rose and the reader yearning for more, and eager to understand exactly what shaped the ladies at this women’s residence. The pace quickens as the story hurtles to its surprising—but satisfying—end. Who said history had to be dull, anyway?

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Behind the Book feature by Fiona Davis on The Dollhouse.

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The Dollhouse

The Dollhouse

By Fiona Davis
Dutton
ISBN 9781101984994

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