It’s 1955 in New York and school teachers, Dovie and Gillian, live together in a small apartment on the Lower East Side. Out of necessity, their private life has always been a closely-guarded secret… until now.
Twenty years on, young Ava Winters lives in the same apartment, struggling to cope with her mother’s deteriorating mental health, without much help from her absent father.
One morning, Ava’s mother disappears and Ava receives a parcel. It contains, amongst other things, a photo of a woman with the word ‘LIAR’ scribbled across her face.
In a bid to escape from her own difficulties, Ava tries to track down the apartment’s former occupants in a bid to discover what happened.
This book was beautifully written, gripping and immersive – I think I devoured it in two or three sittings, which is no mean feat when you have small children.
I loved spending time in Gillian and Dovie’s world. The characters were immensely relatable across time and geography and the historical setting was well realised, from smoky jazz clubs of 50s New York to a quiet Parisian apartment.
At risk of spoilers, I feel obliged to point out that this book couldn’t be categorised as a romance. It had a Hardy-esque inevitability of tragedy, with a happier outcome close enough to touch, but constantly slipping from reach. The two women’s happiness at the beginning feels like a vignette with something heavy already creeping around the edges, and the book is taut with tension throughout.
It’s really exciting to see a f/f book in the mainstream, and as a major title for Michael Joseph this year. Long may this trend continue!