“The Dollhouse. . . . That’s what we boys like to call it. . . . The Barbizon Hotel for Women, packed to the rafters with pretty little dolls. Just like you.”
The Dollhouse is set in the 1950’s at The Barbizon Hotel for Women, home to women working towards success in New York City, which included models, secretaries, and editors. It focuses on a woman named Darby who arrives at Barbizon in 1952 to attend secretary school. While overwhelmed with the city and feeling out of place among her model roommates in the beginning, Darby soon befriends a hotel maid, Esme, and discovers a world she never thought she would experience. Jump forward to 2016, where a journalist named Rose becomes curious about her new, mysterious neighbour in what used to be The Barbizon Hotel and has since been turned into a condominium. The story jumps back and forth in time from Darby’s time at Barbizon to years later when there are rumours and an investigation into an incident that had occurred during the 1950’s at the hotel, that Darby was involved in.
I found this to be a compelling novel based around a very fascinating time and place in history. It provides a great sense of what it would have been like during that era and the characters themselves are quite interesting. Particularly enjoyable is exploring Darby’s story and experiences in 1952 and the characters surrounding The Barbizon Hotel for Women. While the present day storyline has its moments, I did find that certain aspects of Rose’s life as well as actions somewhat distracted from what I felt was a really strong narrative of Darby’s life. There is a parallel between Rose and Darby that is created, however, as Rose does not come across as a particularly sympathetic character, that parallel is not as successful as it could have been. We do get a better understanding of Rose as the novel concludes and the stories wrap up. Overall, I found The Dollhouse to be a very enjoyable read.