Genre: Historical Fiction Publication.Date: June 7th 2016 Pages: 448 My review copy: I received a copy from Harper Collins Publishers in exchange for an honest review
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Presenting a dazzling new historical novel … The Girl From The Savoy is as sparkling as champagne and as thrilling as the era itself.
Sometimes life gives you cotton stockings. Sometimes it gives you a Chanel gown …
Dolly Lane is a dreamer; a downtrodden maid who longs to dance on the London stage, but her life has been fractured by the Great War. Memories of the soldier she loved, of secret shame and profound loss, by turns pull her back and spur her on to make a better life.
When she finds employment as a chambermaid at London’s grandest hotel, The Savoy, Dolly takes a step closer to the glittering lives of the Bright Young Things who thrive on champagne, jazz and rebellion. Right now, she must exist on the fringes of power, wealth and glamor—she must remain invisible and unimportant.
But her fortunes take an unexpected turn when she responds to a struggling songwriter’s advertisement for a ‘muse’ and finds herself thrust into London’s exhilarating theatre scene and into the lives of celebrated actress, Loretta May, and her brother, Perry. Loretta and Perry may have the life Dolly aspires to, but they too are searching for something.
Now, at the precipice of the life she has and the one she longs for, the girl from The Savoy must make difficult choices: between two men; between two classes, between everything she knows and everything she dreams of. A brighter future is tantalizingly close—but can a girl like Dolly ever truly leave her past behind?
In my heart, I always knew he would go; that they would all go, in the end. Now the dreaded day has arrived. Teddy is going to war and there is nothing I can do to prevent it.
Everything is a blur. I don’t remember eating breakfast. I don’t remember laying the fires or doing any of my usual chores. I don’t remember hanging up my apron or putting on my coat and hat. I’m not even sure I closed the door behind me as I set off for the station, but I must have done all these things because somehow I am here, standing on the platform, and he is pressing a bunch of daffodils into my hands. Somehow, he is really leaving.
“I’ll be back before you know it,” he says, brushing a tear from my cheek. “They won’t know what’s hit them when we arrive. Look at us. Tough as old boots!” I glance along the platform. The assembled conscripts look like frightened young boys. Not soldiers. Not tough at all. “I’ll be back for your birthday and I’ll take you to the village dance, just like last year. You’ll hardly notice I’m gone before I’m back.”
I want to believe him, but we all know the truth. Nobody comes back. The thought breaks my heart and I gasp to catch my breath through my tears.
Mam had warned me not to be getting all maudlin and sobbing on his shoulder. “You’re to be strong, Dorothy. Tell him how brave he is and how proud you are. No sniveling and wailing.” And here I am, doing everything she told me not to. I can’t help it. I don’t want to be proud. I don’t want to tell him how brave he is. I want to sink to my knees and wrap my arms around his ankles so that he can’t go anywhere. Not without me.
“We’ll be married in the summer and we’ll have little ’uns running around our feet and everything will be back to normal, Dolly. Just you and me and a quiet simple life. Just like we’ve always wanted.”
I nod and press my cheek to the thick fabric of his coat. A quiet simple life. Just like we’ve always wanted. I try to ignore the voice in my head that whispers to me of more than a quiet simple life, the voice that speaks of rowdy adventures waiting far away from here. “Head full of nonsense.” That’s what our Sarah says. She’s probably right. She usually is.
A loud hiss of steam pierces the subdued quiet of the platform, drowning out the muffled sobs. Doors start to slam as the men step into the carriages. Embraces end. Hands are prized agonizingly apart. It is time to let go.
I reach up onto my tiptoes and our lips meet in a last kiss. It isn’t lingering and passionate as I’ve imagined, but rushed and interrupted by my wretched sobs and the urgency of others telling Teddy to hurry along now. We part too soon and he is walking away from me. I can hardly see his face through the blur of my tears.
The shrill blast of the stationmaster’s whistle makes me jump. Mothers and daughters cling to each other. Wives clutch their children to their chests as they bravely wave their daddy good-bye. Great clouds of smoke billow around us and I cover my mouth with my handkerchief as the pistons yawn into life and begin turning on their cranks. The carriages jolt to attention, and he is going.
I start to move, my feet falling in time with the motion of the train, slow at first, and then a brisk walk. All along the platform, women and children reach out, clinging for all they are worth to prolong the very last touch of a coat sleeve, a fingertip, the last flutter of a white handkerchief. And I am jogging and then running, faster and faster, until I can’t keep up and he is gone.
He is gone.
He is gone.
I slow to a walk and stand among the suffocating smoke as my heart cracks into a thousand shards of helpless despair. Everything has changed. Everything will be different now.
I put my hands in my coat pockets, my fingers finding the piece of folded paper in each. I glance at the hastily scribbled note from Teddy in my right hand: Darling Little Thing, Don’t be sad. When the war is over, I’ll come back to you, back to Mawdesley. With you beside me, this is all the world I will ever need. I glance at the page in my left hand, ripped from the morning paper as I lay the fire in Madam’s bedroom. SOCIETY DARLING AND BRAVE NURSE VIRGINIA CLEMENTS REVEALED AS WEST END STAR LORETTA MAY! I look at her beautiful face and elegant clothes, the perfect image to accompany the glowing report of Cochran’s latest dazzling production and the enchanting new star of his chorus. I stare at the two pieces of paper. The life I know in one hand. The life I dream of in the other.
The church bells chime the hour. Time to go back to the Monday wash and the predictable routines that carve out the hours of a maid-of-all-work like me. Wiping the tears from my eyes, I fold the pages and return them to my pockets. I turn my back on the distant puffs of smoke from Teddy’s train and walk along the platform. The surface is icy and I go cautiously, my footing unsure. I slip a little, steady myself, and keep going. Crossing the tracks, I step onto the frosted grass verge that crunches satisfyingly beneath my boots. On firmer ground, my strides lengthen and I walk faster, and all the while the question nags and nags in my mind: Am I walking away from my future, or walking toward it?
I don’t have an answer. It is not mine to give.
War holds all the answers now.
The author's prose is refined and subdued, yet perfectly reflects the era in the vocabulary and the dialogues; the period details are stunning in their accuracy and vividness, as if captured by a a photograph. The author displays such an astonishing knowledge of the artistic world at that time, whether it concerns the movies, the music, or the celebrities. The writing really carries the reader through out the story and makes you feel as if you are part of the 20's for at least a little while.
There are also plenty of interesting secondary characters who in their own way influence the course of the story. I loved Dolly's side kick at the Savoy. She had personality and was always up for fun and games. All the scenes with the two of them together were splendid.
There are three different perspectives in the book. Loretta the dancer, Dolly the dreamer and Teddy the boy Dolly was to marry. Each gives a totally different picture of the times they are living in from their points of view. Loretta struggles with her stage presence and the secret the hides. Dolly dreams of being on stage one day and not having to clean other people's room anymore. Teddy, I will leave to the author to describe to you. His story is a special one and any information might give away too much.
Let me just say, this book is a rare and special one. Miss Gaynor is quickly becoming one of my favorite historical fiction writers.