Book Title and Author: The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis
Publication Date and Publisher: August 07, 2018 by Dutton
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 368 pages
Buy on Amazon.com
Date Read: August 6, 2018 (e-arc)
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.
The Masterpiece is an enchanting piece of historical fiction and well deserving of all 5 stars! This is my first time reading a novel written by Fiona Davis, but it will definitely not be my last!
My mother is an artist and was an art history professor until she retired, so art has always been a fascinating and beloved part of my life. I immediately knew based on the synopsis that I would thoroughly enjoy this story since thanks to my mother and her passionate love of all things New York and it’s unique and extraordinary art history, I already knew of the history surrounding the Grand Central School of Art.
However, I never imagined Davis would make me fall in love with this novel by constructing such a stunning literary masterpiece by richly drawing the characters of Clara Darden and Virginia Clay, two strong, intelligent, vibrant women living in entirely different eras looking to make a new start in their lives while using the historic landmark of the Grand Central Terminal and the Grand Central School of Art as the focus of the novel.
The story alternates beautifully between the two women as Davis tells the story of the two women employed at Grand Central Terminal almost fifty years apart. Clara is chasing her dream of becoming an illustrator for Vogue while being the only female teacher at the Grand Central School of Art. She is highly talented, passionate, and ambitious, but art is a male-dominated world in the 1920s. As she chases her dreams, she finds romance, continues to struggle in the male-dominated society even after proving her worth as an artist once Vogue hires her, especially when the Great Depression hits America. Then a terrible tragedy strikes in the early 1930s and Clara is never heard from again.
Virginia, a breast cancer survivor is a newly divorcee in 1974 from her rich, lawyer husband. She’s struggling with her new lifestyle, to support herself and her teenage daughter Ruby, and to come to terms with herself post-cancer.
Virginia takes a job at Grand Central Terminal as an information-desk clerk and while there, she begins to explore the terminal and discovers the long locked up art school and a mysterious painting that might just answer what happened to Clara Darden. Her finding stirs up questions that the people she turns to for answers will apparently do anything to stop her from discovering. While searching for answers about the painting, Clara, and the art school, Virginia finds out that the terminal, now dirty and in disrepair, is in danger of being destroyed, so she also makes it her mission to help save the historical site.
The novel is extremely well-researched and well-written; it truly is like a wondrous masterpiece itself. The characters, even the ones you dislike, are richly detailed and masterfully woven into the novel. The plot is spellbinding and it was as if I had stepped back into both decades with the effortless and passionate way Davis told the story. The two plots converged in an unexpected yet flawless way, and there are appearances by Jackie Onassis, who is fighting to save the terminal that just made the novel that much more special for me…if you know me, you know that I have a Jackie O obsession!
Just like fine art, this is a magical and enchanting novel that is historical fiction at its finest. I really cannot recommend The Masterpiece highly enough to lovers of historical fiction since it is a stunning, beautiful read. Davis tells a captivating story that will definitely keep you engrossed as it did me.
**Thank you Edelweiss and Dutton for the ARC copy to read in exchange for my fair and honest review.**