From the author of The Dollhouse and The Masterpiece comes the compelling national bestselling novel about the thin lines between love and loss, success and ruin, passion and madness, all hidden behind the walls of The Dakota—New York City’s most famous residence.
When a chance encounter with Theodore Camden, one of the architects of the grand New York apartment house the Dakota, leads to a job offer for Sara Smythe, her world is suddenly awash in possibility—no mean feat for a servant in 1884. The opportunity to move to America. The opportunity to be the female manager of the Dakota. And the opportunity to see more of Theo, who understands Sara like no one else...and is living in the Dakota with his wife and three young children.
One hundred years later, Bailey Camden is desperate for new opportunities: Fresh out of rehab, the former interior designer is homeless, jobless, and penniless. Bailey's grandfather was the ward of famed architect Theodore Camden, yet Bailey won't see a dime of the Camden family's substantial estate; instead, her “cousin” Melinda—Camden's biological great-granddaughter—will inherit almost everything. So when Melinda offers to let Bailey oversee the renovation of her lavish Dakota apartment, Bailey jumps at the chance, despite her dislike of Melinda's vision. The renovation will take away all the character of the apartment Theodore Camden himself lived in...and died in, after suffering multiple stab wounds by a former Dakota employee who had previously spent seven months in an insane asylum—a madwoman named Sara Smythe.
A century apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted by and struggle against the golden excess of their respective agesfor Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the nightlife's free-flowing drinks and cocaine—and take refuge in the Upper West Side's gilded fortress. But a building with a history as rich, and often as tragic, as the Dakota's can't hold its secrets forever, and what Bailey discovers inside could turn everything she thought she knew about Theodore Camden—and the woman who killed him—on its head.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Fiona Davis is the national bestselling author of The Dollhouse, The Address, and The Masterpiece. She lives in New York City and is a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia and the Columbia Journalism School.
Read an Excerpt
London, June 1884
The sight of a child teetering on the window ledge of room 510 turned Sara’s world upside down.
After several years toiling as a maid and working her way up the ranks, she’d been awarded the position of head housekeeper at London’s Langham Hotel a month prior. One of her largest tasks was keeping the maids inline, all young girls with hardly a shred of common sense among them. When they should have been straightening the rooms, she’d more often than not find them giggling in the hallways or flirting with the boys delivering tea trays or flowers.
That morning, she’d been called into the manager’s office and reprimanded for not being harsh enough on her charges.
“You’re soft. We’re starting to wonder if you’re simply too young for the position,” said Mr. Birmingham from behind his walnut desk, which, despite its elegant spindle legs, was roughly the size of a small boat.
Having recently turned thirty, Sara didn’t feel young in the least, not that she’d ever acted that way. When she’d first arrived at the Langham, she’d skipped the giddy overtures of friendship from other maids herage, knowing that she had to stand out if she wanted to move up quickly. Her coolness had paid off, and her higher salary more than made up for the lack of companionship.
But for Mr. Birmingham, who found pleasure in making the younger maids cry, Sara’s self-imposed isolation wasn’t enough.
He directed her to take a seat, but once she had settled herself, the perspective in the room suddenly felt off, as if something in the furniture’s configuration had changed since Mr. Birmingham last summoned her to this spot—or else she was so annoyed by his request for an interview during the busiest hours of the day that she’d worked herself into a kind of nervous imbalance. Sara’s employer was short and had the poor luck to have a torso shaped like a chicken egg with a double yolk. She towered over the man by several inches. Yet somehow Mr. Birmingham was peering down at her from his throne-like seat. She stole a glance at the floor. The bottom five inches of his chair legs were stained a different color than the rest. He’d had them lengthened.
When she looked back up, he puffed up like a songbird, clearly peeved that she’d noticed.
She shifted in her seat. “I’m sorry, Mr. Birmingham, I will be tougher on the girls.”
“If they’re difficult, give them a slap. Better yet, send them down here and I’ll do it for you.” He licked his lips.
Right. She imagined he’d enjoy it immensely. “Is there anything more?”
“No, Mrs. Smythe. Off you go.”
She was still getting used to being called Mrs. Strange how a single promotion afforded not only a living wage but also a new moniker that had nothing to do with her marital status, or lack thereof. No head housekeeper could be called a Miss. Wasn’t proper. The girls were still getting used to addressing her by her full name, and she had to be firmer with that as well. It wouldn’t do for Mr. Birmingham to overhear them calling her Sara. It might be the last straw on what was a very unstable haystack.
That hot June afternoon, after patrolling the halls and basement to break up any assignations, she retreated to her office on the sixth floor to double-check the laundry bills. She needed a rest from shooting dour looks at the girls; her face was tired from scowling. The one window in the room was open as wide as possible in order to catch some semblance of a breeze, but the weather refused to cooperate. All day, the air had been still and humid, making the hotel feel—and smell—a little like the greenhouses at Kew Gardens. A movement from the curtain drew her up from her desk in the hope that an afternoon thunderstorm was brewing.
To her disappointment, the sky was a hazy blue. She looked across the courtyard and there, one floor below, a flash of flesh caughther eye, a chubby arm with fingers that grasped the edge of the sill. Then another arm flailed out and did the same, followed by a head covered in golden curls. The girl sported a velvet bow on the back of her head at a skewed angle. Sara’s breath caught in her chest. Surely a minder would appear at any moment and guide the child back into the room.
With some effort, the child eased her chest up onto the windowsill and stayed motionless for a second, surveying the ground below, arms dangling downward. Sara willed the child away from danger. If she called out, there was a chance she would frighten the child into pitching farther forward. But still no one came. To her horror, a foot swung up and over the sill—three limbs in all. The child was climbing up, possibly drawn to the cooler air and away from the stifling room.
There was no time to waste. Sara sprang out of her office and down the corridor, one hand clutching the heavy chatelaine of keys that dangled from her waist. She lifted her skirts far higher than was decent and dashed down the stairs, her eyes riveted on the few feet in front of her so she wouldn’t lose her footing on the slippery marble. At the fifth floor a couple of guests stepped off the lift and she swooped by them, muttering a quick apology, without losing a beat. Then a turn left and what seemed like an eternal race to the door of room 510. No banging, it might startle the child, and at this point it didn’t matter if she was barging in on anyone. Even if doing so was against hotel policy.
The key turned smoothly in the lock and she opened the door. The girl, wearing a peach-colored dress, now stood upright on the sill facing out, one hand clutching the casing. She had to be around three years old. What was she doing alone?
Walter, one of the porters, and Mabel, the floor’s chambermaid, appeared by Sara’s side, breathing heavily. They must have sprinted after her, knowing something was terribly wrong.
Sara put out her arms to stop Mabel and Walter from moving any farther into the room. “Shh. We don’t want to send her off balance.”
“Where’s her minder?” whispered Mabel. “Is anyone in the bedchamber?”
“I don’t know.” Sara took a step into the room, walking as if the floor might give out at any point. The plush rugs softened her footfall.
As she grew closer, she realized the child was singing to herself. A lullaby about being on a treetop.
The child turned her head and stared at Sara. Her rosy lips parted and her eyes grew round.
Sara held out one hand, palm up, and began humming the same tune softly. In response, the child laughed, but then, with the changeability of her age, her eyes suddenly filled with tears.
“Mama!” the girl demanded, then shook her head. Sara didn’t dare move any farther and her muscles tensed with the effort of doing nothing, staying frozen. A breeze blew in and ruffled the girl’s curls, pushing her slightly off balance. If she fell backward, into the room, Sara might be able to reach her in time to break her fall.
But instead, the little girl overcorrected, and her hand began slipping off the window frame. Such tiny fingernails, tiny fingers.
Sara lunged forward. Her hand grazed the voluminous skirt of the child’s dress and she gripped as much of the material as she could, yanking hard. The girl, shrieking, flew off the ledge, inside, to safety. They hit the ground together in an awkward tangle of limbs and petticoats, the girl practically sitting on Sara’s lap.
The girl twisted around and looked at Sara, blinking in astonishment. Sara was sure she’d cry out, but instead the girl resumed her babbling song while reaching up with one hand to stroke Sara’s chin.
“Well done, just in time,” said Walter as he and Mabel gathered on either side of her.
“Do you think she hurt herself?” asked Sara.
“No, not a whit. You broke the fall. Are you all right?” Mabel scooped up the child while Sara let Walter help her to her feet. She was straightening her skirts and rubbing her hip, which no doubt would sport a large bruise by tomorrow, when a tall, thin woman appeared in the doorway.
“What on earth is going on in here?” the woman demanded, clutching the hand of a little girl a few years older than the one held by Mabel.
The name popped into Sara’s head from the guest book: The Hon. Mrs. Theodore Camden. Traveling with three children, a husband, and a small coterie of servants. Mr. Birmingham had instructed Sara that all of the Camdens’ needs be anticipated, as the wife was the daughter of a baron.
Sara stepped forward. “The child was standing in the window and we brought her inside.”
“More like saved her life,” said Walter. “Mrs. Smythe here leaped in and dragged her back inside in just the nick of time.”
The child, as if realizing the heightened emotions of the grown-ups around her, began to wail. The woman dashed forward and scooped her out of Mabel’s arms, holding the girl close. When her cries subsided, Mrs. Camden looked up, as if seeing them all for the first time.
“I thank you for your assistance, but where is her nanny?”
As if on cue, a plain-looking girl stepped into the room.
“Ma’am?” she inquired, her face scrunched up in confusion.
“Miss Morgan, where have you been? Lula almost fell to her death due to your absence.”
“I’m sorry?” The girl gazed around at everyone in the room. “I popped out for only a minute, to drop off a postcard at the front desk. I thought Mr. Camden was here.” Her voice trailed off and she looked about, as if trying to summon him out of thin air.
“You were supposed to be here minding the children.”
The child buried her head in her mother’s shoulder, weeping again.
“Where is Luther?” Mrs. Camden rushed into the adjoining room and they all followed. Another child—a boy who seemed to be around the same age as Lula—lay on the enormous bed, fast asleep, his curls damp around his head.
Sara, standing beside Mrs. Camden, could practically feel the woman’s fear and relief emanating from her body, like aftershocks of an earthquake. The nanny took Lula from her arms and set about calming the girl down, avoiding her employer’s eyes.
How awful if something had happened. Two little children left alone with a wide-open window; the thought was unimaginable. Sara turned to Mrs. Camden. The woman’s profile was precise, her coloring fair other than thick black lashes that framed hazel eyes. Sara had encountered innumerable members of the peerage at the Langham and they all shared a common way of moving in the world, a confidence that their every desire would be met. It was rare to see one in crisis.
She sensed Walter and Mabel hovering behind them, and became protective of the woman’s dignity. “Is there anything else we can do, Mrs. Camden?” asked Sara.
“No, that is all.” The woman’s face softened. “Thank you for saving her.”
“Of course, ma’am.” Sara nodded to Walter and Mabel and led the way out of the room. Once the door was closed behind them, Sara exhaled with relief.
“That was a close call.” Walter rubbed his forehead with the back of his hand.
“You were spectacular, Sara. I mean, Mrs. Smythe,” said Mabel.
Sara wanted more than anything to crumple onto the floor, but she couldn’t allow her staff to see that.
“That’s more than enough excitement for one day. Back to work. And, Mabel, please remember to address me properly.”
“Of course, Mrs. Smythe.”
Sara turned away and strode down the hallway, grateful her quaking knees were hidden under multiple layers of petticoats and skirts.
The rest of the day, whenever Sara’s mind returned to the events in room 510, her heart thumped wildly in her rib cage. What if she hadn’t grabbed the child in time? What if she’d had to peer over the edge andsee the lifeless body splayed on the hard ground of the courtyard below? Sleep tonight, in the damp heat of her Bayswater bedsit, would be impossible.
But there was enough to keep her busy until then. She finished updating the ledgers, and was about to head out to inspect the turndown of the guests’ rooms when a man rapped on her office door. She knew it was a man from its hard, hollow sound. Maids’ knuckles were barely audible, already apologizing for disturbing her, but the men, whether Mr. Birmingham or the janitor, had no such qualms.
She stood and opened the door, expecting Mr. Birmingham to have made a special trip upstairs to upbraid her for causing a scene with the guests. Instead, a stranger’s face peered down at her. As if he sensed her discomfort, he stepped back a pace. “Mrs. Smythe?”
“Yes. May I help you, sir?” He was clearly a hotel guest, dressed in a fitted, bespoke suit with a Broadway silk hat tucked under one arm.
“I apologize for intruding.” He wiped his brow with an enormous hand. “How do you manage up here, with this insufferable heat?”
“It’s a rare occurrence, luckily.”
“I believe you saved my daughter Lula today. I wanted to thank you in person. My name is Mr. Theodore Camden.” His accent was American, his voice a warm tenor.
Sara gestured to a chair opposite her desk, offering him a seat. He moved with an unexpected grace, given his large build. Nothing about him was handsome, by standard measures. His head was small in contrast to his broad shoulders, his eyes close-set to an irregular nose. But when put alltogether, he was magnetic. She looked down and closed the ledger in order to stop herself from staring.
“I’m glad she’s safe. She is all right, isn’t she?” The image of the wailing girl came to mind.
“Yes. We offered her a slice of Battenberg cake and she’s completely forgotten the incident.” He chuckled before a brief look of pain crossed his face. “I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t gotten there in time. The twins, Lula and Luther, are constantly getting into trouble.”
“Best not to think of it."
Sara was unsure how to proceed. She’d never had a hotelguest in her small office, and he was so tall he took up much of the space.
“How did you know what was happening?” Mr. Camden leaned back in his chair, his hat in his lap. He didn’t seem to realize how indecorous it was to be sitting together like this, even if the door was open, so nothing could be construed as irregular. It was almost as if he enjoyed it, while most guests wouldn’t dream of mingling with the staff.
Excerpted from "The Address"
Copyright © 2018 Fiona Davis.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
1) Sara’s mother projects many of her hopes and dreams onto Sara, expressing great disappointment when Sara ends up working as a maid and following in her footsteps. Ironically, Sara and her mother wind up in similar stations in life for almost identical reasons. Why do you think they choose to avoid sharing their experiences with each other? What does their silence say about women’s lives at that time? How does it speak to the relationship between mother and daughter? If this scene was set in contemporary times, would they have been more likely to relate to and open up to one another? Why or why not?
2) Part of Theo’s charm is his ability to provide Sara access to experiences that someone of her social class would normally never have access to. Was there anything inappropriate about their first encounter in her office when Theo came to thank Sara for saving his daughter’s life? Why or why not? As Theo’s advances toward Sara grew bolder, how did the uneven power dynamic show itself in their relationship? Did you feel that it was fair to Sara? Why or why not?
3) Bailey, Renzo, and other tenants of The Dakota view Melinda’s renovations as disrespectful to the history of the building. How do you feel about renovating historic buildings? What value, if any, do you think there is in preserving the original architecture and design of historic buildings? What value is there in updating and modernizing facilities, amenities, and possibly even aesthetic?
4) Kenneth's stories reflect another facet of The Dakota's history, when “they began letting in the artistic types” who were known to throw wild parties that offended “the snooty old guard” of the building. He is The Dakota’s unofficial historian, yet he continues to be looked down upon by the other residents because he originally worked as a butler in the building. Why do you think Kenneth stays at The Dakota? Have cultural attitudes toward certain custodial professions shifted over the past century? Do you know anyone that works at a job that others might consider beneath them? Have you spoken to them about their experience of the job? If so, how do they feel about it?
5) Fiona Davis based Sara’s experience at the Blackwell’s Island asylum on historical accounts of conditions at in-patient mental health institutions in the 1800s. Were you surprised that patients were treated so poorly at the asylum? What practices or treatments were most affecting? In what ways has society changed (or stayed the same) in its understanding and treatment of mental illness? Do you have any personal experiences from your own life, anyone you know, or even from the media, that inform your views of mental illness?
6) Nellie Bly appears in THE ADDRESS as a fictionalized portrayal of the real journalist who went undercover to expose the brutality and neglect at the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island, which she described in a series of articles in New York World and later in her book Ten Days in a Mad-House. Were you aware of Bly’s work prior to reading this novel? What impression were you left with of her after reading THE ADDRESS? What role does her character play in the development of the story? Is she a major or a minor character, and why?
7) Sara decides to keep her pregnancy secret during her time on Blackwell's Island, despite the additional health risks for her and child. Why do you think she makes that decision? What would you have done? Is there a moral or ethical element at play?
8) Bailey has a complicated relationship with her father. In what ways are they similar or alike? Why does Jack resent the Camdens? Why do you think he is so hesitant to look more closely into their family's past? Put yourself in his shoes. How would you feel about this situation? Does your opinion of Jack change or stay the same as the story unfolds?
9) Both Sara and Bailey are drawn to situations that have the potential to damage their reputation and future. Though both suffer to some degree as a result of their choices, Bailey is able to turn her life around, while Sara is not. What might this indicate about the differences in class fluidity, cultural morality standards, and gender norms in their respective time periods?
10) What do you think about Mrs. Camden and her relationship with Theo? Do you truly believe she was relieved that Sara and Theo had an intimate relationship, as she implied? Why or why not? Why do you think she agreed to raise Christopher as her ward? Do you think she, Theo, or both of them are to blame for their unhappy marriage? Did your opinion of her change throughout the novel? Why or why not?
11) Finally, why do you think Sara decides to take the blame for what happens to Theo? Did she have another choice? Why or why not? What would you have done?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really enjoyed this book. From a historical perspective, it was truly interesting, but the story woven through it was quite compelling. I didn't have any idea how it was going to end. A very satisfying read.
The two plots 100 years apart were masterfully interwoven and the characters really drew one in. Great mix of intrigue, history, mystery and romance, along with heartache, loss and human frailty.
This is the best book i have read in a long time. I could not stop reading until i finished, then was unhappy because it was finushed. I wanted it to go on and on.
I read this book in 3 nights. Once I started I couldn't put it down. The perfect combination of fiction and fact. Loved every page!
The Dakota in New York is America’s first luxury apartment building, designed by the architect Theodore Camden. In 1884, a woman working at a hotel named Sara Smythe earns Theo’s respect and admiration, and he hires her to be the managerette of his new apartments, set to rival New York’s famous Fifth Avenue. But their story ends in tragedy, with Sara in prison for his murder, and Theo before beginning what should have been a brilliant, successful career. One hundred years later, Bailey, an interior designer and recovering drug addict finds herself renovating the apartment of the great-granddaughter of Theo Camden. Her own grandfather was raised by Theo’s widow, but their connection remains a mystery, except for a enigmatic drawing from Theo to Sara which hangs in her childhood home in New Jersey. Bailey literally unpacks her family’s repeatedly tragic past and tries to salvage as much of the apartment’s originality as possible, as well as trying not to relapse in this brilliant, engrossing story about family tragedies and the lost Gilded Age. For a themed recipe of "Washington Pie" raspberry tea cakes, discussion questions, or similar books, visit https://owlcation.com/humanities/The-Address-Book-Discussion-and-Recipe.
Loved this book! Could not put it down, highly recommend! I am looking forward to reading The Dollhouse next. Hopefully, more wonderful books will follow from this very talented author!
Enjoy! A good read.
LOVED it.. Imaginative, interwoven plots. My new favorite author.
I enjoyed this book a lot. It kept me fascinated all the way to the end.
Sometimes a book with a mediocre plot can end up asking its readers to tackle difficult questions. This is one of those books. Its two main characters, both women, one from the late 1800s and the other from the 1980s, face the question of whether family history is important and, if it is, why. Bailey, in the relative present of the 1980s, is the poor relative in a rich family with an illustrious past in New York City. Sara, 100 years before, is tied to that family through her relationship with its patriarch. The plotting, full of coincidences and devices, draws a line between these two women through their connections with the Dakota building on the Upper West Side. A murder plays prominently in the past and, when Bailey finds evidence hidden for a century, the two timelines converge. The author is at her best when she is describing social mores both past and present, and as she describes the building. The book is entertaining more for the author's ability to bring scenes alive than for her ability to design a convincing plot.
Excellent read. Lots of solid plot changes.
Enjoyed reading about the Dakota during the gilded aage.
What this book does, and does very well is tell a story from dual timelines set 100 years apart. The events that happened in 1884 have an effect on the events occurring in 1984. If I could have read this book in one sitting, I definitely would have, this book definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. I really enjoyed the historical setting of this book. I definitely can't wait to read The Masterpiece.
Great weaving of history and fiction