Book review: The Masterpiece

This is the third Fiona Davis novel I’ve read. Her novels are ideal for someone like me, who enjoys dual storylines: one historical, one contemporary. It’s a plus that Davis’ novels always include a New York landmark that serves as an additional story protagonist.

In her first novel, it was the Barbizon – housing for single women (and predominantly models) who came to work in New York. Her next novel followed the unveiling of the Dakota Towers. The Masterpiece covers the glittering Grand Central train station in its hey day, and in its decayed state in the 1970s, when city planners were discussing its destruction.

Although I enjoyed the historical context of the first two novels, the balance of interesting history and compelling characters and storylines just wasn’t there for me in her first two novels. With The Masterpiece, Davis seems to get the formula right.

The year is 1928, Clara has moved across the country to make her dreams of becoming an artist come true in New York City. It’s not easy for a woman, but she’s on her way. She teaches classes at the Grand Central Art School, while trying to make it as an illustrator for the booming advertising industry.

Almost five decades later, Virginia hasn’t found the transition to the 70s easy. The world is changing all around her. Her corporate lawyer husband once provided her stability and a sense of purpose, but now he’s left her to fully embrace the sexual revolution. Needing to make ends meet, she takes the only job available to her – in the visitor’s office of the crumbling Grand Central Station.

The stories of Clara and Virginia intertwine, as Virginia becomes swept up in the campaign to save Grand Central station from certain destruction, and as she attempts to piece together the details surrounding the illustration artist Clara, who mysteriously disappeared in 1931. This is a fast, enjoyable read, and New York’s Grand Central is a worthy protagonist in this novel.

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