This book is told from the viewpoints of two women, Amanda and Olive, who live 100 years apart. Olive is in 1907 New York while Amanda is the modern 2007 character. The premise sounded intriguing – Amanda is a vintage clothing shop owner who discovers a journal in an old muff. Olive is the author of said journal, who has to struggle to survive on her own after the death of her father leaves her nearly destitute. I’ve read several books by Lauren Willig that were similar in structure, so I had hopes for a good read. Unfortunately, this one fell flat in several places.
We start off with Amanda, who appears to be an independent business woman, running the Astor Place Vintage shop; she loves the older fashions along with the history of the city, and finds treasures in old trunks and donations. However, her business could be doing better and she’s taking money from her married lover in order to stay afloat, while she bemoans the fact that she’s turning 39 and has no prospect of children on the horizon. She’s been involved with Jeff for six years, a man she’d dated in college but drifted apart from for several years. They reunited and she is willing to continue their affair and accept his money. She has trouble sleeping and ends up staying up all night repairing the vintage clothing, and dragging herself into work in the afternoon. Once she finds the journal, it obsesses her and she feels a connection of sorts to Olive.
Olive was the daughter of a relatively well off business man, whose life was drastically changed when he died. All of his investments were lost, and she has to scramble to find a way to support herself. In that era, women weren’t expected to have jobs, much less a career, so her dreams of becoming a buyer for a department store seem beyond reach. She’d been incredibly sheltered and is naïve about many things, especially her own sexuality. Unlike Amanda, Olive doesn’t want marriage and babies; she is quite resilient and pushes her way forward against the misogyny of the time. I was much more fascinated with her story than Amanda’s, to be honest.
Ms Lehmann has clearly done her research on the history of New York city, along with the fashions and the social practices of the early 1900s. There are several old photographs in the book, depicting the city as Olive would have seen it and gives the reader a good visual. You get a feel for how difficult it was for women on their own at the time, and to appreciate what we have now. In the end, the two stories inevitably intertwine, but leave too many unsatisfying loose ends! Rating this at 2.5 stars, rounded to 3.