Books

THE LIONS OF FIFTH AVENUE by Fiona Davis

This is the first novel that I’ve read by author Fiona Davis, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. THE LIONS OF FIFTH AVENUE is one of Ms. Davis’ novels about famous buildings, and all the details about the New York Public Library are fascinating. The structure of the novel is a braided narrative, with part of it happening in 1913, when Laura Lyons lives with her family in an apartment INSIDE the New York Public Library (because her husband is the superintendent of the library.) The other part of the narrative takes place 80 years later, in 1993, when Laura’s granddaughter Sadie is promoted to be curator of the same library.

To Ms. Davis’ credit, both parts are equally strong, but ultimately I found the novel unsatisfying. By writing a braided narrative the author is taking the risk of losing the reader because now they have to double their effort to keep two casts of characters straight. And I did have a hard time, trying to remember who everyone was.

The other problem is that the author did not pace the unfolding of her characters, which meant that there  was not enough setup, enough sprinkling of information  in the story to explain why various characters acted as they did. For example, I never understood Laura’s son Harry’s abrupt shift from inhabiting the family home to his refusal to go home with his mother. Similarly, I found Laura’s husband’s too-sudden death hard to understand.

In both cases, Ms. Davis simply didn’t spend enough time with her characters, enough time to let their emotions play out on the pages. So what happened to them seemed rushed and contrived. This is especially true of Robin Larkin, who fell into the pages of the 1993 story from nowhere and turned out to be an important character. Three stars.