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Talented Hazel Gaynor returns following A Memory of Violets(2015) and The Girl Who Came Home (2014) with her latest,THE GIRL FROM THE SAVOY —Impressive, evocative, and captivating— rich in history, culture, art, and charm.
. . “Men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
A young woman working as a chambermaid in a luxury historical hotel in London, dreaming of a dazzling career on stage, a chorus girl, a flapper, an actress, and beyond—from difficult choices, life altering changes, and devastating aftermath of soldiers, and the women left behind, during the war and post war.
From London stage -entertainment, allure, and glamour of the stars and the roaring 1920s!
Set in the years just after the Great War, when social boundaries were changing and women especially were fighting for greater independence. Told from three POV and narrators: Dolly, Loretta, and Teddy.
“That’s the beauty of a life on the stage. One can be whomever one chooses to be.”
The novel opens with a Prologue, Lancashire, England, March 1916—Teddy is going off to war, leaving Dorothy (Dolly) behind. Hope. Love. Adventure is their motto. Teddy was always her inspiration to be better. To strive for something far beyond her reach.
Then a brief chance meeting. An intriguing man. A composer.
“It is only by trying and failing, by losing something we really love, that we discover how much we want it.”
Flash forward to London 1923 with Dolly. She was a nicknamed “Dolly Daydreamer” from the other maids. She is delighted to begin a new position as a maid at The Savoy Hotel London. Where she can be surrounded by the rich and famous. A maid with ambition.
An opulent hotel with an impressive guest list, Hollywood stars, privileged American heiresses, and the darlings of London society. A place where the utmost discretion is required at all times. She will share a room with three other maids. Dolly gets a glimpse of the magic-from the dresses, shoes, glamour, and glitter of those around her. She longs to dance on the London stage. She wants an audition.
Her life takes a turn when she responds to a songwriter’s ad for a “muse” and becomes immersed into London’s theater scene. Will she ever be good enough? She was told fortune favors the brave. Nobody made it in this business by being coy and demure.
We also meet iconic star of the stage, the darling of the West End, Loretta May and her brother Perry. Dolly is now a part of this world and Loretta has everything Dolly wants and desires. Loretta is the darling of London society. The rebellious society, dressed, photographed, and painted and written by the best names in the world.
She was the reason everyone saved their money for their wages to buy ticket to her performance, and stand for hours to get a glimpse. They swoon over the star. However, Loretta’s life in crumbling yet all her fans are unaware of her pain. With secrets of her own. Loretta and Dolly may have more in common than they may think.
Dolly wonders if Teddy hears music. If he remembers how they used to love dancing. She wonders if he thinks of her all. A butterfly. Will the butterfly spread its wings in search for adventures? Life dances on.
Two men. Teddy and Perry. They mingle and change and she can’t stop dancing. When she closes her eyes, Dolly sees Perry. When she rests her check against the pillows, it is Teddy’s cheek she rests against.
If only the past could be locked away in the darkness and forgotten.
With flashes and heartbreaking letters to Teddy at war from Dolly, now in a hospital. Someone reading the letters to Teddy (perhaps a nurse, he thinks). From conditions they do not understand from the war, treating with hypnosis, electric shock, and warm baths. The guns are silent and yet he is still fighting his war.
He has his memories of Dolly, if he can remember. The War, the nurse reading the letters, and the butterfly in the window. Teddy always said she would be special. Teddy was always chasing butterflies. He never kept them. He liked to admire and let them go. A love so strong.
The highs, lows, and intensity of the time. From emotions, the damage, brokenness, friendships, shame, loss, loyalty, the aftermath of the war, romance, and aspirations and dreams of women of this era. From dazzle, scandal, love, music, success, and glamour. All intriguing to an ordinary girl like Dolly.
How does war change people and lives?
Gaynor poignantly captures the difficulties and impacts of war on the young men who survived during this time with the characters of Perry and Teddy. The burdens of war—a part of our history and the realities of war. I liked the contrast between the different social classes, and the two women, as well as time and place. Three distinct voices: the (Teddy) war, (Dolly) a maid, and a (Loretta) star.
“Get a job in a shop. Marry a nice young chap. Leave the dancing to someone else.”
Impeccably researched, Gaynor’s vivid and dazzling descriptions makes you feel as though you were re-living the era and the characters come alive on each page. I enjoyed the creative format of the novel with each chapter clearly defined by its voice and characters, and a lead in quote intro, setting the stage, broken out in Acts One (Hope), Two (Love) and Three (Adventure). The stages of life. Many metaphors and lovely quotes.
From a broken solider; shell shock (psychological disturbance caused by prolonged exposure to active warfare, especially being under bombardment.) what we call today PTSD. Gaynor offers vast references and additional reading regarding women and men in the 1920s as well as a wealth of historical and insightful information, and as an added plus, an entire playlist of music from the era.
With Loretta’s character, the author captures the essence of these amazing women, and the private life of a woman behind the spotlight. Dolly’s character is based on The Gaiety Girls and Cochran’s Young Ladies —working-class girls’ dreams. Where young girls flocked to the theater night after night, known as gallery girls. Where they watched their favorite stars perform, to forget their troubles at home. The wanted to laugh, sing, dance, and dazzle.
Music: Adore listening to music from this era with the jazz bands such as the Savoy Orpheans, the resident band at the sumptuous Savoy during the period in which the novel is set. Gaynor provides a playlist, and enjoyed watching/listening to all of her recommended songs, via YouTube.
I love the 1920s! As always, love reading of the "inspiration" (behind the scenes). A blending of fact and fiction, infusing lost stories and forgotten voices from the past. Gaynor breathes new life into her characters, with her imagination and powerful prose. (Definitely agree with her about the hats).
Fascinating additional reading of Rupert D'Oyly Carte (1876 –1948) an English hotelier, theatre owner and impresario, best known as proprietor of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and Savoy Hotel.
Highly recommend! For fans of Beatriz Williams, Kathleen Tessaro, Susan Meissner, and Karen White. Have also pre-ordered the audio, narrated by Jennifer Jones, Lucy Rayner, and Paul Fox. As mentioned previously, I am quickly becoming a fan of historical fiction, drawing me away from my typical mystery suspense thrillers. Have not read Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War, quickly added to my TBR list.
In reference to a previous Tweet, I cannot help but think about this era, the characters, the novel (especially Dolly) and the Hotel Savoy London, and the American Bar--when I look out my window at legendary 5-star oceanfront Palm Beach, FL Breakers Resort.
The music from the HMF is a prime example of this era. Named for The Breakers’ founding father, Henry Morrison Flagler and designed by the internationally-renowned Adam D. Tihany (Per Se, Restaurant Daniel, Le Cirque 2000, MO Bar London), this thrillingly glamorous retreat is an ode to golden era Palm Beach, with all of its high style, and unapologetic decadence.
Today, life is faster, more complex and more austere, and we all crave the grace and unapologetic decadence of eras past. At HMF they take the social rituals of cocktail culture as the perfect antidote to the incivility of modern life. Reminiscent of a bygone era –"a celebration of glamour and indulgence in true classic Palm Beach style. " (Our own Savoy)
If you are ever in the area, highly recommend this experience. When stepping into room, the ambiance, the mood, takes you back: Listen to the Music It awakens your spirit, and resonates the glamour and sophistication of the exciting and dazzling 1920's. (all of these selections are on my personal playlist).