This review first published on The BookReporter.com. I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review.
Set in New York City in two time periods, one hundred years apart, about 1885 and 1985, THE ADDRESS by Fiona Davis is an educational and entertaining romp back in time to two eras of excess: the Gilded Age and the age of greed and power. While living in NYC years ago, The Dakota, the building that is “the Address,” always caught my eye and the mystery that Davis creates and unravels at the iconic building kept me flipping pages.
The story begins with Sara Smythe, head housemaid at a high-end London hotel. When she saves a guest’s child from falling out a window, she catches the wealthy father’s eye. Theo Camden is an American architect and he offers her a job managing the housekeeping staff at the brand new concept, yet-to-open, luxury apartment building in New York’s still undeveloped west side. Seizing the opportunity for success across the Atlantic, Sara eventually accepts the position. The 1985 storyline follows “cousins” Bailey Camden, the granddaughter of the boy taken in and raised by the Camden’s as an infant and Melinda Camden, the wealthy blood relation of Theo Camden. Bailey is straight out of rehab back into the temptations of alcohol, partying and coke, the trappings of the 1980s clubbing scene. She is out of options, faced with few opportunities and is living with Melinda at The Dakota. Through Bailey’s desire to understand her family’s true relationship with Theodore Camden and her respect of history, she stumbles upon and pieces together clues to her identity.
The two interlinking stories highlight the fact that even as we study and investigate history, we still don’t really grasp and can’t really know, the nuances and intricacies of the true story — of what actually happened. I like that the guesses and observations of those uncovering fragments from the past don’t quite get it all right. Holes remain and questions are left unanswered. Yet, it’s satisfying for the reader to know most of what happened even if Camden’s relatives didn’t know the full story.
THE ADDRESS examines class and status and made me appreciate anew being a woman in today’s society versus one hundred plus years ago. It’s frustrating to feel Sara’s limitations and lack of power as a smart woman in 1885. Though she was successful in managing and running the entire apartment building, she still only had the title of “lady managerette,” and wasn’t respected as any man in that position would have been. She was often not taken seriously by vendors or those in authority.
The reader learns about the city’s culture in that period including the horrors and injustices of the prison and insane asylum institutions exposed by a heroic and astute female journalist. Yay for women on that one. On the theme of women helping or hurting other women, women helped on another survive on the ship across the ocean, within the walls of the asylum and Sara supported her staff and helped care for children that weren’t her own. However, we also glimpsed jealousy, back-stabbing and deceit in the relationships between women in both time periods.
As a mother, there were parts that ripped my heart out, as a wife, there were parts that maddened me despite loving the protagonist, as a woman, I felt frustration and pride in varying measure. I adore a book that grabs me, makes me think, analyze, and feel, and THE ADDRESS delivers.
Full of questions and angst, forbidden love and self-discovery, history and mystery, THE ADDRESS is a great read. Expertly crafted, the reader knows she’s in the hands of a confident story-teller.
[A note to the publisher: On page 232, Sara pops up in Bailey’s story. Oops!]
© Copyright Leah DeCesare 2017