EXCERPT: New York City, April 1928
Clara Darden’s illustration class at the Grand Central School of Art, tucked under the copper eaves of the terminal, was unaffected by the trains that rumbled through ancient layers of Manhattan schist hundreds of feet below. But somehow, a surprise visit from Mr Lorette, the school’s director, had the disruptive power of a locomotive weighing in at thousands of tons.
Even before Mr Lorette was a factor, Clara had been anxious about the annual faculty exhibition set to open at six o’clock that evening. Her first show in New York City, and everyone important in the art and editorial worlds would be there. She’d been working on her illustrations for months now, knowing this might be her only chance.
She asked her class to begin work on an alternate cover design for Virginia Woolf’s latest book, and the four ladies dove in eagerly, while Wilbur, the only male and something of a rake to boot, sighed loudly and rolled his eyes. Gertrude, the most studious of the five members, was so offended by Wilbur’s lack of respect that she threatened to toss a jar of turpentine at him. They were still arguing vociferously when Mr Lorette waltzed in.
Never mind that these were all adults, not children. Whenever Wilbur made a ruckus, it had the unfortunate effect of lowering the entire class’s maturity level by a decade. More often than not, Clara was strong enough to restore order before things went too far. But Mr Lorette seemed possessed of a miraculous talent for sensing the rare occasions during which Clara lost control of the room, and he could usually be counted upon to choose such times to wander by and assess her skills as an educator.
ABOUT THIS BOOK: In her latest captivating novel, nationally bestselling author Fiona Davis takes readers into the glamorous lost art school within Grand Central Terminal, where two very different women, fifty years apart, strive to make their mark on a world set against them.
For the nearly nine million people who live in New York City, Grand Central Terminal is a crown jewel, a masterpiece of design. But for Clara Darden and Virginia Clay, it represents something quite different.
For Clara, the terminal is the stepping stone to her future, which she is certain will shine as the brightly as the constellations on the main concourse ceiling. It is 1928, and twenty-five-year-old Clara is teaching at the lauded Grand Central School of Art. A talented illustrator, she has dreams of creating cover art for Vogue, but not even the prestige of the school can override the public’s disdain for a “woman artist.” Brash, fiery, confident, and single-minded–even while juggling the affections of two men, a wealthy would-be poet and a brilliant experimental painter–Clara is determined to achieve every creative success. But she and her bohemian friends have no idea that they’ll soon be blindsided by the looming Great Depression, an insatiable monster with the power to destroy the entire art scene. And even poverty and hunger will do little to prepare Clara for the greater tragedy yet to come.
Nearly fifty years later, in 1974, the terminal has declined almost as sharply as Virginia Clay’s life. Full of grime and danger, from the smoke-blackened ceiling to the pickpockets and drug dealers who roam the floor, Grand Central is at the center of a fierce lawsuit: Is the once-grand building a landmark to be preserved, or a cancer to be demolished? For Virginia, it is simply her last resort. Recently divorced, she has just accepted a job in the information booth in order to support herself and her college-age daughter, Ruby. But when Virginia stumbles upon an abandoned art school within the terminal and discovers a striking watercolor hidden under the dust, her eyes are opened to the elegance beneath the decay. She embarks on a quest to find the artist of the unsigned masterpiece–an impassioned chase that draws Virginia not only into the battle to save Grand Central but deep into the mystery of Clara Darden, the famed 1920s illustrator who disappeared from history in 1931.
MY THOUGHTS: I was excited to begin listening to The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis. I have listened to both The Dollhouse and The Address, and loved them both.
But immediately, I found the narrator’s voice and delivery to be annoying. Smug is the word that comes to mind. Why, oh why did they change narrators? I far preferred Saskia Maarleveld.
And then as I got into the story, I had the thought that this was just like the other two books – exactly the same format, just change names and locations. Kind of like writing by numbers.
I had trouble warming to either of the main characters, Clara in the late 1920’s, and Virginia in the 70’s. There seemed to be a lot of extraneous material in the plot that could have been done without and not harmed the storyline. I did enjoy the twist at the end.
In retrospect, I may have enjoyed The Masterpiece more had I read it rather than listened to it. I think my dislike of the narrator may have soured the whole experience for me. I am not ruling out reading the book at some point in the future, to see if I enjoy it more, and I will definitely read more by this author. But the operative word here is ‘read’, not listen.
THE AUTHOR: Fiona Davis is the nationally bestselling author of THE MASTERPIECE, THE DOLLHOUSE and THE ADDRESS. She began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in regional theater. After getting a master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School, she fell in love with writing, leapfrogging from editor to freelance journalist before finally settling down as an author of historical fiction.
DISCLOSURE: I listened to the audiobook version of The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis, narrated by Cassandra Campbell, published by Penguin Audio via OverDrive. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.
Please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com for an explanation of my rating system. This review and others are also published on my Goodreads.com page https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2310913461