I’ve always been kind of obsessed with the Savoy hotel. As a writer, it’s hard not to be captivated by a locale where the likes of Oscar Wilde, H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw once hung their hats. So I jumped at the chance to read and review Hazel Gaynor’s latest novel, THE GIRL FROM THE SAVOY.
Here’s a bit about the book from the publisher:
London, 1923: Welcome to The Savoy hotel, a glittering jewel in London’s social scene, where the lives of the rich, the famous, and the infamous intertwine
Here, amid the cocktails and the jazz, two women with very different pasts try to forget the devastation of the Great War and forge a new life in a city where those who dare to dream can have it all.
Dolly Lane is The Savoy’s newest chambermaid, her prospects limited by a life in service. But her proximity to the dazzling hotel guests fuels her dreams—to take the London stage by storm, to wear couture gowns, to be applauded by gallery girls and admired by critics – to be a star, just like her idol, Loretta May.
The daughter of an earl, Loretta has rebelliously turned her back on the carefully ordered life expected of a woman at the top of society’s elite. She will love who she wants, and live as she likes. Outwardly, her star burns bright, but Loretta holds a dark secret. She alone knows that her star cannot burn forever.
When an unusual turn of events leads Dolly’s and Loretta’s lives to collide, they must both learn to let go of their pasts in order to hold on to what they most desire.
Here’s my review
This is a beautiful, meticulously researched historical novel that definitely delivers a sense of the Savoy as it hosted the lost generation. Gaynor presents the Savoy as a high society adventure park where classes collide and dreams can be dashed.
The novel follows the points of view of three characters – Dolly Lane, an ambitious maid with deep secrets, Teddy Cooper, Dolly’s shell-shocked, war-ravaged boyfriend and Loretta May, a successful actress who has everything Dolly wants but knows it won’t last. The story kicks off when Dolly answers an ad for a songwriter seeking a muse only to discover that the songwriter in question is a man named Perry, Loretta’s brother. This encounter puts the worlds of Dolly, Loretta and Teddy on a collision course.
These are characters who seem to be driven by a sense that their world is disappearing. They’re on the cusp of so many things. They inhabit the world of the theater, which is on the verge of being taken over by films, they straddle class lines that are growing more blurry by the minute and a significant chunk of their generation is missing – having been taken by the Great War.
There is so much to love about this novel. The hotel and 1920’s London are almost characters in the book and reading has the feel of having access to a time machine and being able to experience the Savoy’s grand lobby, luxurious dining rooms and cramped servants’ quarters. You could basically make a playlist for your next dinner party with the jazz age music Gaynor mentions in this book. The fact that THE GIRL FROM THE SAVOY addresses the tough choices and lack of diverse opportunity faced by women of that era without portraying them as helpless victims resonated with me. Dolly is a heroine that readers will be rooting for. And the way that Dolly’s future is foreshadowed by Loretta’s recollections and observations was so marvelously done.
On the critical side, for me, this was not the easiest read. It’s definitely not a book to pack in your beach bag. While the prose was often lyrical and generally highly atmospheric, it sometimes read as if it were written in the 1920’s and not written about the 1920’s. The differences in the POV’s, particularly between Dolly and Loretta in the book’s latter sections could be subtle to the point that if I had to stop reading I sometimes needed to go back a few pages to determine who was narrating.
In general, I think historical fiction readers will be delighted with Gaynor’s novel. If you’re more of a reading omnivore, I recommended brewing a cup of your favorite tea and curling up with this book on your next rainy day or afternoon in. This is a world and these are characters who need your full attention.