Published by Allen & Unwin on December 1st 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
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The Bronx, 1891. Virginia Loftin, the boldest of four artistic sisters in a family living in genteel poverty, knows what she wants most: to become a celebrated novelist despite her gender, and to marry Charlie, the boy next door and her first love.
When Charlie instead proposes to a woman from a wealthy family, Ginny is devastated; shutting out her family, she holes up in her room and turns their story into fiction, obsessively rewriting a better ending. Though she works with newfound intensity, literary success eludes her-until she attends an elite salon hosted at her brother's friend John Hopper's Fifth Avenue mansion. Among painters, musicians, actors, and writers, Ginny returns to herself, even blooming under the handsome, enigmatic John's increasingly romantic attentions.
But just as she and her siblings have become swept up in the society, Charlie throws himself back into her path, and Ginny learns that the salon's bright lights may be obscuring some dark shadows. Torn between two worlds that aren't quite as she'd imagined them, Ginny will realise how high the stakes are for her family, her writing, and her chance at love.
Ginny Loftin is a writer, living in the Bronx with her mother and artistic siblings. Ginny is shattered when her childhood friend and love of her life, Charlie, proposes to another woman at his mother’s insistence. Lost in grief, she pours out her worries into a novel, and is convinced to attend a meeting of the Fifth Avenue Artists Society hosted by a friend of her brother.
The Fifth Avenue Artists Society is an evocative story of a bygone era, with society clinging to old class rules while forging ahead to the turn of the twentieth century, with its motor cars and women accepted into careers they were previously barred from. There are a few cameos from artists and famous publishers of the time, and the descriptions of the big, smelly city and quieter neighbourhoods are vivid.
I loved the way that each of Ginny’s siblings had an artistic talent to make a little money on the side: Bess with her millinery, Alevia’s piano performing, Mae is focused on education and their brother Frank’s painting. Since their father died, Frank is the only one with a steady income, but there is still a lingering wish from Bess to marry into a wealthy family so that she can become a lady of leisure. When I found out that this story was based on real people from Joy Callaway’s family, I wasn’t surprised. They seem like they would have been amazing personalities!
While the characters were life-like and relatable, I almost put this book down on a couple of different occasions. The pacing of the story is just… slow. Hardly anything happens for the first half of the book – it’s mostly Ginny being desperately sad. Even when things do start to happen they are followed by further slow sections of misery for one reason or another. Perhaps I have been reading too many action-packed books lately, but I found myself wishing things would hurry along, which is never a good thing while reading.
I’d recommend this book to historical fiction fans, or those who need motivation in their artistic endeavours, especially in the publishing world.
I received a copy of this book from Allen & Unwin for review. RRP $29.99