Book Review - The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis
Join us on August 29 at 7pm Central to discuss The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis with a special appearance by the author. Click here for more information.
I read this entire book on the plane from St. Louis to Phoenix and then Phoenix to Kauai. It isn't often that I have the opportunity to complete a book in one day. While everyone else around me had snuggled in for a nap during the long flight, I was so engrossed in this book I couldn't put it down until I knew how it ended. I've been a big fan of Fiona Davis' work since reading The Address and later The Dollhouse. I had high hopes for The Masterpiece and it more than met my expectations. I. Loved. This. Book.
My favorite thing about Fiona's work is that she takes historic buildings in New York City and constructs a novel around them. The Address was centered around The Dakota, a luxurious apartment building built in 1984; The Dollhouse was centered around the Barbizon Hotel for Women, built in 1927 and saw the likes of Sylvia Plath (who wrote the semi-autobiography, The Bell Jar, about her time at the Barbizon), Lauren Bacall, Joan Crawford, Candace Bergen, Grace Kelly, Ali MacGraw, etc.
The Masterpiece is centered around the Grand Central Station. It takes place in the 1920s when it housed the Grand Central School of Art and the 1970s when it was rundown and in danger of being destroyed. The story is centered around two main characters: Clara, an artist and teacher at the Grand Central School of Art in the 1920s; and Virginia, a divorced mother barely making ends meet by working at the information booth at Grand Central Station in the 1970s but with a passion for art history and preserving historic architecture.
There are many things I love about historical fiction...so many things. But one of my favorite things is how the books I read overlap and I learn more about history in the process. You might remember I read and reviewed Sargent's Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas by Donna M. Lucey with my students last semester? Well Sargent played a small role in The Masterpiece - he founded the Grand Central School of Art along with Edmund Greacen and Walter Leighton Clark. Oh, and a side note but super exciting, the Art Institute of Chicago currently has an exhibit of John Singer Sargent's work on display: John Singer Sargent and Chicago's Gilded Age. The exhibit is open through September 30.