Dolly has always wanted to be a dancer and actress. But she also always expected to marry Teddy Cooper, the boy she's loved since she was 8 years old, and live out her life in the comfort of her small town. But when Teddy went off to war and came back suffering from severe shell shock, everything changed. The novel opens with Dolly rushing to start a new job as a maid at the Savoy hotel in London. She's dripping wet and splattered with mud on her drooping cotton stockings when she crashes into an attractive man just before she makes it to the hotel and although both are a little bit intrigued by each other, they go their own ways. But this is not the last time Dolly will cross paths with Peregrine Clements, a struggling composer who needs a muse to help him write music again. And through Perry, Dolly will also meet Loretta May, the darling of the West End and Perry's sister. With such friends, how could this little maid not realize her dream of making it on the stage?
Told in first person chapters from Dolly, Loretta, and Teddy's perspectives, the novel deals with both WWI and the years afterwards. Although the war is over in the present of the novel, all of the characters are still touched by it. Each of them paid a terrible price thanks to "the war to end all wars" and that terrible cost threads through even the most glamorous years of the war's aftermath. Dolly's humble origins and her ideally invisible service as a maid at the hotel give quite a contrast to the gay, partying, upper class life that the guests live. But Dolly doesn't intend to be a maid forever and she vows to lead the life she sees in the suites she cleans every day. The first half of the novel is rather drawn out, as Dolly tries so very hard to chase her dream and let go of her heartbreaking past, as the beautiful and celebrated Loretta triumphs professionally even as her private life crumbles beneath her own secret tragedies, and as Teddy struggles to swim back up from the horror that has him in its grip. The last third of the novel moves much faster with each of these three and Perry faced with the decisions that will drive the direction of their futures. The writing is very visual, making it easy to imagine both the alluring glitter of the theater world and the Bright Young Things, and the simple pleasures as well as the drudgeries of the working class. The stories of each of the characters, even those who appear to have it all, are poignant and layered and their sorrows are forever imprinted on them. This is a well-researched and tender historical novel that looks at the soul deep damage caused by war, personal cost, the pull of dreams, and what it takes to achieve them, especially amidst a world remade in the wake of a terrible war.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.