THE ADDRESS: A NOVEL, BY FIONA DAVIS
PUBLICATION: DUTTON; AUGUST 1, 2017
About the book:
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.
In 1985, Bailey Camden is desperate for new opportunities. Fresh out of rehab, the former party girl and interior designer is homeless, jobless, and penniless. Two generations ago, Bailey’s grandfather was the ward of famed architect Theodore Camden. But the absence of a genetic connection means Bailey won’t see a dime of the Camden family’s substantial estate. Instead, her “cousin” Melinda—Camden’s biological great-granddaughter—will inherit almost everything. So when Melinda offers to let Bailey oversee the renovation of her lavish Dakota apartment, Bailey jumps at the chance, despite her dislike of Melinda’s vision. The renovation will take away all the character and history of the apartment Theodore Camden himself lived in…and died in, after suffering multiple stab wounds by a mad woman named Sara Smythe, a former Dakota employee who had previously spent seven months in an insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island.
One hundred years apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted by and struggle against the golden excess of their respective ages—for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the free-flowing drinks and cocaine in the nightclubs of New York City—and take refuge and solace in the Upper West Side’s gilded fortress. But a building with a history as rich—and often tragic—as The Dakota’s can’t hold its secrets forever, and what Bailey discovers in its basement could turn everything she thought she knew about Theodore Camden—and the woman who killed him—on its head.
I’m very excited today to bring you my review of Fiona Davis’ upcoming novel, The Address. This novel is set in the 1880’s with Sara and the 1980’s with Bailey, both of which have a connection to the famed Dakota Apartment Building, just in different time periods.
Who, What, When, and Where:
In 1884, Sara was working as the executive housekeeper in a beautiful London hotel when she meets the Camden family. Theodore Camden was one of the architects for the new Dakota in New York City and after Sara is such a help to his wife and children, he persuades her to come to New York to live and work at the Dakota. However, upon her arrival, she learns she will be operations manager (managerette, as they say in the novel), and finds herself struggling at first, but slowly learning the ropes.
Fast forward to 1985 and to Bailey Camden. Bailey’s cousin Melinda is one of two heirs to the Camden fortune and is in need of someone to handle renovations and remodeling of the Dakota. Bailey has just left rehab and lost her job as an interior designer, so she accepts Melinda’s offer to live at the Dakota and oversee the changes to the interior. Bailey disagrees with her cousin’s vision but she needs a job and a roof over her head.
It is known that an employee of the Dakota, Sara Smythe, killed Theodore Camden in his apartment in 1885, but it’s not until Bailey starts clearing out a storage area that she starts seeing several connections between Theodore and Sarah, other than the fact that she murdered him.
Thoughts and Reaction:
Let me begin by saying that this was a brilliant, amazing novel. I don’t always love historical fiction, but The Address was wonderful. It started out slow for me and I honestly struggled with whether to continue on, which is proof that I should always finish what I’m reading. I was very quickly interested in Sara’s story, but Bailey really had to grow on me. Her partying days of booze and cocaine were gone, she had no job, no money, and quite honestly, irritated me with her woe is me attitude and jealousy of Melinda. However, as the novel progressed, I disliked her less and less because of her patience, intellect, and ease with most people. I never learned to like her, but that’s o.k.
Sara quickly earned my respect and I found her a fascinating character for the time period. Her professional success was one thing, but taking off to the United States all alone for a new job and new life was impressive for 1884. Although a stern manager, she also had a quiet kindness about her and would not hesitate to help anyone in need. Alas, in all great dramas, once Sara is living and working at the Dakota, she made some decisions that would change her life forever. Of course, I can’t go into those decisions without giving spoilers, but Sara faced several new challenges which were far worse than simply moving from London on her own.
Although historical fiction, The Address is a creative blend of fact and fiction. The Dakota is a real building imagined and built in the 1880’s by Henry Hardenbergh and Edward Clark. There is also mention of a journalist named Nellie that goes undercover in the asylum on Blackwell’s Island, now Roosevelt Island. Davis also accessed and utilized names of actual tenants at the time the Dakota opened. There are more facts blended into fiction, but of course, Theodore and Sara’s fantastic story is all fiction.
Again, this started slowly for me, but it was well worth pressing onward because it resulted in me devouring this novel. After reading, it also led me to a few hours of internet searches regarding the Dakota and its endless list of famous residents, Blackwell’s Island, the architects of the project, and so on. I’m kind of nerdy that way, but it happens. Don’t be afraid of the one hundred year time difference between Sara and Bailey because it flows together seamlessly. The imagery, characterization, and realism make for a gem of a novel. I highly recommend this to any fiction lover, but especially fans of historical fiction and fiction with a surprising twist.
*Special thanks to First to Read for providing this ARC in exchange for my honest review.