I’m kind of obsessed with Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, so when I happened across Hazel Gaynor’s latest book, The Girl From The Savoy, I snatched it up with great excitement. It’s not a murder mystery, and it’s set in London, not Melbourne, but the time period of the 1920s is the common theme between the two, and it’s one of the things I love best about Miss Fisher. It’s an exciting time period, full of change and glamour.
The Girl From The Savoy tells the story of two women with very different backgrounds, but a similar dream. Dolly Lane dreams of dancing under the stage lights while she works as a chambermaid at the prestigious Savoy hotel. Loretta May, a famous actress in the West End, has already achieved that dream but carries a burden of her own.
Their paths cross when Dolly replies to an ad for a composer’s muse. The composer is Perry, the brother of Loretta May. As Dolly’s vibrant and kind-hearted company helps Perry begin writing music again, after struggling with inspiration since the war, she also comes to know Loretta May, and becomes her protégé for the stage. It’s a dream come true for Dolly.
I loved the characters in The Girl From The Savoy. With her daydreams and her determination to follow her goal of making it in London’s West End, Dolly still makes time for her friends and thinks of small kindnesses for others. I felt like she was a friend as I fell into each page. In the wake of the Great War, none of the characters remain untouched, and Dolly in particular has to deal with some distressing events, but she handles them with admirable common sense and inner strength.
Perry is a bit of a quirky character, as evidenced by his decision to post an ad for a muse to help him with his music. It was such a delightful way for him and Dolly to cross paths again (they met briefly once before). I enjoyed his relationship with his sister, too, especially how the two of them meet at Claridge’s for tea every Wednesday. With her cool elegance, Loretta almost had the potential to feel distant, too sophisticated to connect to, but that wasn’t the case at all. Her deep affection for her brother and her determination to forge her own path
One of the things I most admired about Hazel Gaynor’s writing is her masterful skill for layering hints about the pasts of each character in a natural, unforced way. Dolly and Perry and Loretta all carry baggage from the war, but it isn’t revealed to the reader right away. Neither are the hints dragged on, or left as ostentatious cliffhangers. Experiencing each secret slowly being revealed as the book went on was like watching a rosebud unfurl. I didn’t realize how just how often foreshadowing tends to be heavy handed until I found the opposite in The Girl From The Savoy.
One of the fascinations of the 1920s as a historical period is the dichotomy between its glamour – the sleek haircuts, red lips, satiny fashions, glasses of champagne – and the stain of the Great War – shell shock, lost loved ones, survivor’s guilt. The Girl From The Savoy captures both vividly.
And I’m not the only one who enjoyed it – I saw on Twitter that John Cleese’s wife thought it was a very fine book. If not from me, take the advice from her and read The Girl From The Savoy. You can’t disappoint John Cleese’s wife, now, can you?
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