Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Girl from the Savoy by Hazel Gaynor

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Edelweiss
Read: February 10, 2016

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?

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Hazel Gaynor is not a new author for me. I had the privilege of reading Hush, her contribution to Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War in December 2015 and was so impressed with the piece that I made up my mind to read at least one of her full length titles during 2016. I own a copy of The Girl Who Came Home, but it was The Girl from the Savoy that I ultimately picked up. I wish I could say something intelligent about the subject matter piquing my interest and/or imagination, but the shameful reality is that I am cover slut and the volume has an absolutely gorgeous jacket.

Generally speaking, I liked the premise of Gaynor’s book, but the structure and format confused me. I felt protagonist Dorothy 'Dolly' Lane an intriguing young woman and I liked how her experience paralleled that of fellow narrator Loretta May. I felt their ties a little coincidental, but when push comes to shove fiction is chock full of such twists and there was nothing overtly annoying in the connection these women shared. I’d have been quite happy if the novel had centered on Dorothy and Loretta alone, but the inclusion of third narrator Teddy Cooper left me scratching my head. The character had enormous potential, but his role carries little weight alongside Gaynor’s leading ladies and while I enjoyed his scenes and the ideas they inspired, I couldn’t help feeling his perspective superfluous to the story at hand.

I felt Gaynor’s descriptions of life at the Savoy brilliantly imagined, but the hotel is not a character in and of itself. The comparison to Downtown Abbey is inevitable given the time period, Goodreads reviewer Sheena Lambert actually made it in her review, but I feel the television series only emphasizes what the novel lacks. The house is an integral part of the show and most of the drama is tied to the mansion, what it represents, and the lives lived within its walls. Gaynor’s Savoy is colorful, but it does not factor in the story the same way. It is one of many backdrops on which Dorothy’s story unfolds, but it is not fundamental to the drama of her experience which I found disappointing in light of the novel’s description.

In terms of pacing, I felt Gaynor spent too much time laying her groundwork. There are many inspired moments in the first two thirds of novel, but the narrative took so long to find its feet that I was bored by the time I really took interest in what was happening. The concept of life after loss, especially during the Great War held a lot of appeal for me and I thought the diversity of Gaynor’s illustration intensely creative, but its delayed delivery left me frustrated and only partially satisfied.

Would I recommend the novel? As usual, that answer depends on the reader. The Girl from the Savoy is an emotional piece and I think it touches on a lot of intense and deeply compelling themes, but I found it difficult to appreciate the style and tone of the narrative and offer caution to those readers who require instant gratification from their fictional experience.

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"By the time the war was over, my heart was broken, my dreams were shattered, my hopes were bruised. Without ever stepping onto a battlefield, I too was wounded."
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Magdalena Johansson said...

"but the shameful reality is that I am cover slut and the volume has an absolutely gorgeous jacket."

I'm also guilty of that quite a lot of times! XD

Deborah Swift said...

Likewise. The cover looks gorgeous. I might give this one a try!