It’s 1913, and on the surface, Laura Lyons couldn’t ask for more out of life—her husband is the superintendent of the New York Public Library, allowing their family to live in an apartment within the grand building, and they are blessed with two children. But headstrong, passionate Laura wants more, and when she takes a leap of faith and applies to the Columbia Journalism School, her world is cracked wide open. As her studies take her all over the city, she is drawn to Greenwich Village’s new bohemia, where she discovers the Heterodoxy Club—a radical, all-female group in which women are encouraged to loudly share their opinions on suffrage, birth control, and women’s rights. Soon, Laura finds herself questioning her traditional role as wife and mother. But when valuable books are stolen back at the library, threatening the home and institution she loves, she’s forced to confront her shifting priorities head on . . . and may just lose everything in the process.
Eighty years later, in 1993, Sadie Donovan struggles with the legacy of her grandmother, the famous essayist Laura Lyons, especially after she’s wrangled her dream job as a curator at the New York Public Library. But the job quickly becomes a nightmare when rare manuscripts, notes, and books for the exhibit Sadie’s running begin disappearing from the library’s famous Berg Collection. Determined to save both the exhibit and her career, the typically risk-adverse Sadie teams up with a private security expert to uncover the culprit. However, things unexpectedly become personal when the investigation leads Sadie to some unwelcome truths about her own family heritage—truths that shed new light on the biggest tragedy in the library’s history.
Disclaimer: Although I received an uncorrected eBook file of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, the words and opinions below are my own.
Who remembers the librarian ghost in Ghostbusters? You know, the little old lady spirit that turned on the team after they ignored her “shhh” warnings? Before reading Fiona Davis’ newest novel, I could safely say that was ALL I knew about the New York Public Library. I didn’t even know that Andrew Carnegie had given a donation toward the founding of this library, although libraries are part of his legacy. And being able to live in a functioning library? That was new to me, but an idea that I find appealing!
The (fictional) Lyons of Fifth Avenue live a unique life. Jack Lyons moves his family to the heart of New York City to become the first superintendent of the new library, but the transition is difficult for everyone. With both parents obsessed by the written language – appropriate for their living situation – the children are increasingly left to their own devices. The repercussions of a tragic day in 1914 are then passed down to their descendants.
The descriptions of the library make it seem like a magical place. Imagine being able to roam around it without anyone else being there! I also loved the historical aspects of it. Yes, there really was a Heterodoxy Club, and some of the members Davis includes in the narrative were real life members of it. The earlier storyline takes place at the end of the Gilded Age and, through Laura’s eyes, we get to see the differences between the haves and the have-nots as well as the societal changes that were taking place.
This is only the second of Fiona Davis’ novels I’ve read, and I loved it as much as I loved the first (The Masterpiece). Davis wonderfully weaves together the two timeframes until they come together in a startling fashion. While there is the obvious commonality of the missing books, readers will find that history repeats: what happens to Laura happens to an unknowing Sadie. Both women must learn to let go of the fear that stops them from moving on from being hurt, and they both must deal with misplaced guilt. Did I guess the entirety of the plot? Absolutely not! The ending caught me unaware and brought tears to my eyes. And yes, that’s a good thing. It means I’m looking forward to reading more of Davis’ timeslip fiction, both her earlier novels and whatever she writes next. After all, New York City has so many incredible, and historical, buildings.
Publisher: Dutton (an imprint of Penguin Random House)
Publication Date: 04 August 2020
Fiona began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in regional theater.
After getting a master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School, she fell in love with writing, leapfrogging from editor to freelance journalist before finally settling down as an author of historical fiction. Fiona’s books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
She’s a graduate of the College of William & Mary and is based in New York City. Fiona Davis’ Website http://www.fionadavis.net/