Choosing a book to read is personal and everyone gravitates toward what they believe will resonate with them. My dance class book group is eclectic and we all have different and varied interests. Last month we chose to read The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis. This book choice was a huge success for our group – strong women characters, art history, Grand Central Terminal, and our common love and appreciation for early 1900s New York City and the 1970s when many of our early city memories began.
The Masterpiece is a dual timeline historical fiction novel, featuring Clara, a young woman illustrator trying to rise to the top of her career in a male dominant field of artists in the 1920s. She teaches at the Grand Central School of art and aspires to be a well known illustrator. Clara is confident and persistent, but when the depression hits, she becomes impoverish and is faced with setbacks and tragedy.
Virginia, a divorced mother trying to make ends meet in 1974, gets a job at the dilapidated and filthy Grand Central Terminal in the information booth. The building’s existence is in question – will it be preserved or is it in danger of being demolished? While snooping around in the forgotten rooms above the train terminal she comes upon a beautiful painting. Virginia’s search for the artist leads her to discover a famous illustrator who has since disappeared from history.
The characters are lively, with deep history and strong emotions…we really get to know them, understand their challenges and feel their passions. The backdrop is New York City and the Grand Central School of Art above Grand Central Terminal. A little mystery, a little art, a little love…tragedy, triumph and NYC…our book group loved it!
We had the amazing opportunity to FaceTime with Fiona Davis during our discussion and she provided us with insight into her writing process including her deep dive into research. She told us Clara was written with Helen Dryden in mind, the woman who created the cover art for Vogue Magazine in the 1920s.
In the story there is a character, Levon, who painted a picture of himself as a boy with his mother. Fiona based that character on the painter, Arshile Gorky and here is that painting.
When conjuring up Clara, Fiona had actress Tilda Swinton in mind. Once you get to know Clara, this makes perfect sense!
We learned that Fiona wrote this book in chapter order, rather than one timeline and then the next, keeping it interesting for herself as each day she was starting fresh with a different time period. Her discipline is to be admired as she is on track to write a book a year…The Chelsea Girls will be published summer 2019.
In our book club, we are fortunate to have Brie, an artist/photographer, and she contributed with several photos of the current Grand Central Terminal, including the Whispering Gallery and the famous information booth, all shiny and clean.
We all enjoyed the book and our special evening with Fiona. Including the author in book group meetings adds such a unique and wonderful element to the discussion. We look forward to welcoming more authors into our discussions in 2019!
About 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. Visit her at www.fionadavis.net, facebook.com/FionaDavisAuthor/ and on Instagram and Twitter @fionajdavis.
I first met Fiona in 2016 when her debut historical fiction novel, The Dollhouse, was released. Her first book talk was at the Westport Library and we connected. That story took place at the Barbizon Hotel in NYC and coincidentally, my mother lived there during the time Fiona wrote about. Since then, she has written The Address, which takes place at The Dakota on the upper west side, and now The Masterpiece. She has returned to the Westport Library several times to participate in author and reader/writer events. I was thrilled to be able to welcome her to my bookclub via FaceTime to discuss The Masterpiece!