The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: August 7th, 2018 by Dutton
Summary: For the nearly nine million people who live in New York City, Grand Central Terminal is a crown jewel, a masterpiece of design. But for Clara Darden and Virginia Clay, it represents something quite different.
For Clara, the terminal is the stepping stone to her future, which she is certain will shine as the brightly as the constellations on the main concourse ceiling. It is 1928, and twenty-five-year-old Clara is teaching at the lauded Grand Central School of Art. A talented illustrator, she has dreams of creating cover art for Vogue, but not even the prestige of the school can override the public’s disdain for a “woman artist.” Brash, fiery, confident, and single-minded–even while juggling the affections of two men, a wealthy would-be poet and a brilliant experimental painter–Clara is determined to achieve every creative success. But she and her bohemian friends have no idea that they’ll soon be blindsided by the looming Great Depression, an insatiable monster with the power to destroy the entire art scene. And even poverty and hunger will do little to prepare Clara for the greater tragedy yet to come.
Nearly fifty years later, in 1974, the terminal has declined almost as sharply as Virginia Clay’s life. Full of grime and danger, from the smoke-blackened ceiling to the pickpockets and drug dealers who roam the floor, Grand Central is at the center of a fierce lawsuit: Is the once-grand building a landmark to be preserved, or a cancer to be demolished? For Virginia, it is simply her last resort. Recently divorced, she has just accepted a job in the information booth in order to support herself and her college-age daughter, Ruby. But when Virginia stumbles upon an abandoned art school within the terminal and discovers a striking watercolor hidden under the dust, her eyes are opened to the elegance beneath the decay. She embarks on a quest to find the artist of the unsigned masterpiece–an impassioned chase that draws Virginia not only into the battle to save Grand Central but deep into the mystery of Clara Darden, the famed 1920s illustrator who disappeared from history in 1931.
**I received an e-ARC through Penguin’s First to Read program in exchange for an honest review**
The Masterpiece follows two women separated between 50 years as they embark a world full of starving artists, art scandals, and female empowerment. Clara Darden is an artist before her time, not to mention being a woman surrounded by sharks in the art world who are desperate to undermine her talent. After a tragedy that destroyed all of her art, she disappears without a trace and is eventually forgotten by the art world. 50 years later, Virginia Clay is a single mother struggling to find her place in the world following her divorce. She later finds her calling when she stumbles upon a painting that appears to be by the mysterious Clara Darden and is determined to bring justice to not only the lost artist, but also the history tied to it by attempting to save the Grand Central Station from being demolished.
Historical fiction is not usually my cup of tea, however the plot of this book drew me in immediately. A painting resurfacing of an artist who mysteriously disappeared off the face of the earth just 50 years prior? Sign me up. As I continued reading, my initial enthusiasm seemed to dissipate. I didn’t mind the flip-flopping between Clara and Virginia’s time periods, however I feel as if the plot line stalled from time to time which made it difficult for me at times to stay invested. My excitement picked back up during the last 150 pages which is where I feel that the story started to regain its speed. But having to push through the first half of the book to get to the excitement was tough at times. Despite the slow beginning, I very much enjoyed the second half of the book when all of the pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place. Can we also mention WOMEN EMPOWERMENT??? Especially during a time where both men and women would not really support women’s success in any aspect. We definitely need more of that today.
With that being said, The Masterpiece was something new for me which I am very happy that I was given the opportunity to read before its release (Aug. 7, 2018)! Although it was slow for me at times, I still very much enjoyed it.