I enjoy reading historical fiction and one of my favourite eras to read about is the 1920’s. This was a period of much change, particularly in the aftermath of the war as people begun to look to the future, whilst coming to terms with a difficult past that’s hard to leave behind. This is a time that has been perfectly captured in Hazel Gaynor’s latest novel The Girl from the Savoy.
‘Wonderful adventures await for those who dare to find them,
I think of Auntie Gert’s words and feel the flutter of restless wings on the edge of my heart. If adventures are waiting for me here, then I’m ready to find them.’
This story begins in 1923, and in the aftermath of the Great War Dolly Lane is setting off on a new adventure. Dolly secures employment as a chambermaid at The Savoy, the grandest of London’s hotels. But as she tends to the rooms of high profile guests and stage stars she dreams that one day she will dance and sing alongside them. We follow Dolly’s story as she settles into her new life, see the people she meets, the rules she must adhere to, and the dreams she has of her future – along with a past she can’t help but cling onto. The narrative alternates between the perspectives of Dolly and two other key characters – the much celebrated actress Loretta May, and Teddy, who is home from the war but still recuperating from the physical and emotional turmoil. I loved these characters and from the start I was rooting for Dolly and desperate for her to succeed and to make peace with her past. I also really liked Loretta May, a fascinating woman who has lived what can be considered an enviable life yet still carries with her wartime memories and her own personal battles. From the outside, Dolly and Loretta seem so very far apart, but deep down the women share the same desires, and they are both struggling to overcome the events of war, and the people they have left behind.
‘I carried my own invisible scars and it is hard to mend someone else when you, yourself, are damaged beyond repair.’
I loved this book and really enjoyed discovering more about these characters as their stories progressed. The character development was great and each character has such a complex array of emotions. More details are gradually revealed, particularly those concerning their pasts, and there are some surprises along the way. Gaynor has portrayed the 1920’s era really well and there is excellent attention to detail with regard to the fashion, music and culture that defined this era. This resulted in an immersive read where by turning the pages you are stepping back in time. I loved learning about life at The Savoy for both the privileged guests and the girls who worked tirelessly to keep them happy, whilst all the time dreaming of dancing in silk shoes, deafened by the applause from the theatre gallery. But it is not only stardom that the girls dream of, and many of them have stories from their past, and the damage left by war is never far from their thoughts. And as Dolly pursues new adventures, Teddy is in a military hospital, trying to make sense of past adventures. In addition, Loretta’s brother Perry has his own demons to contend with when it comes to the war. Gaynor has sensitively portrayed the impact of war and the dark shadow it can leave on those who lived through it; those scars that cannot be seen yet haunt a person, staying with them for years.
“It occurs to me that while we may come from very different beginnings, in the end we are all looking for the same thing. To love and to be loved. Isn’t that all that matters?”
I loved The Girl from the Savoy; it is a beautifully written story of hope, love and adventure which provides a fascinating glimpse into the past, to an era filled with promise, and the life of Dolly – an ordinary girl and her journey into an extraordinary world.
The Girl from the Savoy is to be published on 8th September 2016 by Harper. Many thanks to Hayley Camis at Harper for providing a copy for review.