Disclaimer two: This is my first Fiona Davis novel, and I have to say, I really enjoyed it!
The Address by Fiona Davis takes place at The Dakota luxury rooming house in New York City, which still stands today. It is a split narrative between when it was first built in 1884 and 1985 and features ladies of the house: House managerette Sara Smythe, fresh off the boat from England and ready to take on the new world, and Bailey Camden, granddaughter Theo Camden’s ward, fresh out of rehab and ready to begin her own career as an interior designer in refurbished rooms at The Dakota.
In 1884, Sara was working as head maid in London when she saves a child’s life as the girl hung from the windowsill. In repayment and out of generosity, the Camden family ask her to work at Theo’s new building: The infamous Dakota, in the wilderness of outer New York City. Sara always had big dreams, and now here was an opportunity beckoning her from the other side of the world. But life is not done throwing curveballs her way…
In 1985, when Bailey, struggling to strike out on her own, gets thrown a rope helping change her cousin Matilda’s apartment at The Dakota, she is struck by the history of the building at its recent tragedy, the assassination of John Lennon. But when she finds the original tenant and sort-of great grandfather Theo Camden’s possessions in the basement of the building, her life and those of her family will be upturned forever.
Even though the women are separated by almost 100 years, their struggles are reflected in one another’s stories. As Sara explains to Theo, “We all have our own magnificent prisons, even the queen, I’d venture.” For Sara, the prison is her lot in life, being of a lower station at a time when the opulence of the wealthy surpassed even the movie stars of today. For Bailey, the prison is also of opulence; of drugs and booze and the glamorous life of the New York socialite. Both of the women long for a place where they belong, both are stuck as outcasts, with sharks disguised as life preservers on all sides.
What I loved
- The (older) history. Davis really makes you step back in time with her writings of the late 1880’s America, with its “old money/new money” class wars, opulent exteriors with rotten interiors, and treatment of women.She shows the beautiful and the horrifying, both in a very clear light and prose that brings you to the moment.
- The women. This book, it seems to me, is a sort of feminism– you have two women, both of whom are flawed but at their cores are stronger than they seem. There are people in their lives that would bring them down, but both (in vastly different ways) get the last laugh in the end. I generally felt sympathetic and encouraging to both of the women even at their lowest points, which is something a lot of authors fail to do with flawed characters– especially adulteresses and alcoholics.
- The split narrative. For those that have followed me for a while, you know I am very on the fence about split narratives, but here it was done JUST right. No confusion, very clean breaks, and not a huge host of characters that are impossible to keep track of.
What I didn’t love (NB: not deal-breakers)
- The pace. The book started very slowly, so slowly I put it down at Chapter 8 and did not pick it up again for a week or two. I am so glad I did, because then all of the sudden you were hit with tidal wave after tidal wave of plot twists and crazy climaxes, ending both narratives on very different notes but still satisfying all the same. None of that came through in the first portion of the book, however.
- The Eighties. Maybe this is just me, but I did not love Davis’s description of the time. It felt too reliant on certain standout points, including the death of John Lennon and the immense amount of cocaine.
- On a similar note, Bailey’s story. I loved Bailey, and really identified with her character arc, but I did not love the fixation on AA and its tenets throughout the narrative. Don’t get me wrong, I think both the organization an recovery are wonderful things, but I just feel like Davis used it as a literary tool to push Bailey’s character in the direction she needed to go.
Read this, it is so good! I give it 4 waves and can’t wait to get my physical copy for beach re-reading! Stick it out past the slow parts and you will be well rewarded.