The cover alone of The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis sold me. It’s stunning. But not only was the cover amazing the story was even better! This was a wonderful debut book by Davis. It had some glitz and glamour with a dash of mystery and murder. Hello perfect read. If you are looking for a cozy read this fall this book is IT! Read on below for my thoughts as well as my “Bliss Chat” with Fiona. She was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions about this wonderful book and fabulous setting of the Barbizon Hotel!
The book centers around Darby who is a new NYC resident in the 1950’s wanting to make a life for herself and lives at the Barbizon Hotel. A women’s only residence, where the girls are trying to make a living and stand on their own two feet. Starting off on the wrong foot, Darby befriends Esme, a risky maid who is a jazz singer by night. Engulfed in the beauty and excitement of the city Darby is influenced by Esme to take chances she normally wouldn’t take. Fast forward to Rose, prest day, who now lives in what was the Barbizon. Fascinated by a woman whose face is covered and scarred she decides to investigate who she is and what her story is. The woman is not one to talk so Rose has to piece together the puzzle by talking with other residents of the Barbizon. The mystery starts to unfold and Davis captures the essence of this magical hotel all the while hooking the reader in a murder-mystery.
Bliss Chat with Fiona Davis
1.The Barbizon is so glamorous and magical. What drew you to this location for the book?
For decades, the Barbizon Hotel for Women was the go-to residence for cultured young ladies to live while they worked or studied in New York City. Many ex-guests went on to great fame, including Grace Kelly, Joan Crawford, Sylvia Plath, and Liza Minnelli, as well as writers like Eudora Welty and Joan Didion. When it went condo in 2005, a dozen or so of the long-time residents of the hotel still living there were moved into rent-controlled apartments on the fourth floor. It occurred to me that the building would make a great setting for a novel, with an interesting mix of old-school glamour and modern luxury.
2. What did you do in terms of research for the book? Did you talk with anyone that resided there or worked there?
I read through old issues of women’s magazines from the early 1950s to get an idea of what life was like back then, and was drawn into the fashions, the expectations, and the political climate. I also interviewed a number of women who’d live in the hotel in the 50s and 60s to find out what it was like. I learned all kinds of gems, including the fact that although men weren’t allowed beyond the public areas (even the elevator operators were female), the guests snuck them up all the time.
3. I love that it was a murder mystery mixed with fabulous female characters. What drew you to this idea?
I adore a great mystery – Agatha Christie hooked me as a kid and today I’m drawn to the suspenseful plots of authors like Clare Mackintosh and Tana French. So I made the modern-day heroine a journalist, who starts digging into a tragedy that involved one of the fourth-floor residents back in 1952. The interweaving of the clues and red herrings made my head spin at times, but I enjoyed every minute.
4. I know you were an actress which is so fabulous! Can you tell us a little more about that and did that life have a little inspiration in your book as so many actresses frequented The Barbizon?
I had a wonderful time in my twenties acting in New York City, as I was lucky enough to get involved with a theater company that put on masterful shows by playwrights like Jean Genet and Shakespeare. For the book, I wanted to describe what it’s like to step out on a stage in front of an audience. Instead of acting, I used the setting of a downtown jazz club and made my 1952 heroine, Darby, get up and sing. I think that was one of my favorite scenes to write and edit.
5. As a writer, where is your favorite place to write?
I have a great home office, but when I need to avoid distractions, I head to the New York Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. There’s something about the long walk across the plaza, past the Henry Moore sculpture, that settles my head and puts me in the right frame of mind to crank out a scene or two.
6. Name 3 blissful things that you can’t live without.
A massage once a month, a glass of Chardonnay after a long day of writing, and a morning run in the park with my best friend.
7. What is the first thing you do when you complete a book?
Road trip! I’m wrapping up the first draft of my next book, and plan on heading to Cape Cod for a fall weekend with friends. Can’t wait.
8. What was the last book that you read?
I mentor a sixth-grader who introduced me to Newbery Medal-winner The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963, by Christopher Paul Curtis. It describes a fictional family in 1963, when a bomb in the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church killed four girls, and is an uncanny depiction of family dynamics, as well as heartbreaking.
9. While on tour what is a must-have beauty product in your make-up bag?
Violets are Blue Facial Serum, which is great for transitioning from summer to fall; Fresh Sugar lip gloss in petal; and Kerastase V.I.P. Volume in Powder, which makes my baby-fine hair look way thicker than it actually is.
10. Are you looking forward to any books that are coming out in 2016/17?
You bet: Zadie Smith’s Swing Time (out in November), Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel (December) Jamie Brenner’s The Forever Summer (April 2017)