Book Review for “The Address” by Fiona Davis.
Summary: “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.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical, Contemporary, USA – New York; Other Categories: Novel, Romantic, Mystery, Family Saga.
This is another back-list novel for which I found a really good deal, and decided to snap up and read while I had a small window between ARCs (come on Edelweiss… I’ve got like 15 books I’ve requested and you’re not getting back to me). Aside from the incentive of the low price, I chose this because of several reasons. First, I really enjoyed Fiona’s recent novel, “The Lions of Fifth Avenue” and that was the first book of hers I got to read. Second, I’m a bit of a frustrated architect myself, so the idea of building a whole novel around a building – especially one as iconic as The Dakota – was a real draw for me. Okay, so I’ve never seen the Dakota, mostly because I’m not a huge fan of New York (once a Chicagoan, always a Chicagoan), but that didn’t matter. Davis seems to adore New York, and she’s got a whole lot of fodder for subject matter there. (Now, if she ever decides to move a touch westward… I could give her some ideas from my home town!)
Anyway, I must admit that although I generally enjoyed this novel, there were a few things about this book that didn’t work for me. To begin with, it had a bit too much romance for my taste, but thankfully that was confined to the earlier timeline of 1885-6; the 1985-6 parts were essentially devoid of romance, which suited me just fine. Also, I think that Davis made the plot here a touch more convoluted than it needed, and to resolve some of the twists she had to resort in shifting history to suit her timeline. That also ended up with giving her a few overly convenient solutions to getting people out of difficult situations. By that I mean that there was one coincidence that was just too accidental to be believable (sorry, I can’t say more than this without including a spoiler). Finally, as much as I like Bailey (from the 1985 parts), I couldn’t understand how she was so nice and loyal to her cousin Melinda, who frankly, was hateful, greedy, and selfish.
As you can see, this is one of those dual-timeline novels, which have become so popular these days. However, as much as I’m getting a bit tired of this mechanic, this one worked very well, and made a whole lot of sense. During the historical sections, we see the story unfold, and during the contemporary sections, we watch these descendants of the characters discover the truth behind what happened in the past. Now, this is precisely how a good dual timeline should work; each section needs to have equal weight and their own reason to be set in their separate eras. I believe that Davis has figured this out perfectly and mastered it beautifully (unlike one book I read recently that had a modern timeline which was totally superfluous, to my mind).
Finally, one of the things I noticed in Davis’s last book was that the building was almost a character itself, which was something I really appreciated. Admittedly, in this book, although there certainly was a prominence to the Dakota in this book, I’m not sure that its personality came through quite as clearly – or rather, as consistently. There were times when I practically felt the building having an impact on its tenants, but at other times it took a more subjugated position. This isn’t a huge fault of this novel, but I can see that Davis has since developed very effectively, and that’s what makes her books unique. On the other hand, uncovering the mystery here did play a great part in the plot, which was fun to uncover. For all of this, I think that this novel would be a good introduction to Davis, but I did prefer her last novel to this one. Obviously, I’ll still recommend it, but with a few reservations, and give it four out of five stars. (By the way, this copy had an excerpt from her upcoming novel – The Magnolia Palace – and it already piqued my interest!)
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