26 Aug The Manhattan Girls by Gill Paul
An insightful peek into the world of Dorothy Parker and her circle of friends
I’d bite my own mother’s hand off for the chance to read a new Gill Paul novel, so imagine my excitement when I heard I’d got on the blogtour for this one!
This author is a genius at breathing life into real-life characters from history – women like tragic Maria Romanov, glamorous Jackie Onassis, lovelorn Maria Callas and much-maligned Wallis Simpson simply spring into being from the pages of her book.
I was especially intrigued to read the Manhattan Girls because I know nothing at all about the life of Dorothy Parker, and I’m ashamed to say I had not even heard of her close circle of friends – influential reporter Jane Grant, talented Broadway artist Winifred Lenihan and Peggy Leech, who would go on to become an acclaimed novelist.
Along with the bright and shining young intellectual stars of New York, they’re members of the Alonquin Club, affectionately known as the Gonk, and cement their friendship through the bridge club they establish to rival the guys’ poker club, meeting at each other’s apartments, sharing confidences, hopes and dreams.
They’re all very different.
Jane is ambitious, focused on her and husband Harold’s dream to launch a new magazine. Along with her literary ambitions, Peggy longs for a husband and children of her own. Winifred wants to be taken seriously as an actress, not a victim of the casting couch.
For alas, 1920s Manhattan is still very much a man’s world and these women will have to fight tooth and nail to be taken seriously in it.
Finally, there is Dorothy – Dottie to her friends. Funny, acerbic, never short of a one-liner, she is the toast of the town, but alas, she has her own demons driving her.
Fame and fortune are all very well, but as long as true love eludes her, she can never be fully happy. Can her friends save her from herself?
Where should I start with extolling this story?
With its evocative atmosphere? From the opening pages, we are drawn into the glamorous world of downtown 1920s New York, where artists, intellectuals and gangsters rub shoulders in the speak-easies, where it seems everyone lives to drink, smoke and party, but where strong emotions bubble under the superficiality of the hedonistic lifestyle.
With its characters? Dottie is the lynchpin of the story, her friends circling her like moths to a flame, but they’re all strong, influential women in their own right, and so empathetic. Jane with her quiet determination; Peggy with her kind thoughtfulness; Winifred, so vulnerable yet so brave – though I’d never met them before in real life or in fiction they quickly felt like friends.
Then there’s the humour. I don’t know how many of Dorothy Parker’s one-liners her are of her own or the author’s invention, but they did make me laugh! I think my favourite was “I made the mistake of putting all my eggs in one bastard”. And there are plenty more like this to choose from.
And yet there is such pathos, too, in Dottie’s attempts to keep a man, her writer’s block, her grief at the loss of her dog; in Jane’s struggle for independence within the bounds of domesticity and her ongoing feud with her husband’s friend Alec; in the unwanted attentions that Winifred’s triumphs have brought and continue to bring; in Peggy’s envy of her sister’s marital bliss despite her own flourishing career.
Through it all, the four friends support each other, with only the occasional falling out, fighting each other’s battles and standing up to the men who think they can control them.
Each woman might have made it on her own merits, but how much greater is their triumph thanks to their close sisterhood.
Though none apply the label to themselves, they’re true feminists in an age when feminism was just being invented, and an inspiration to us all.
What are you waiting for? Get out and get this book, immerse yourself in Dorothy Parker’s life and times, and enjoy the glamour, tragedy, danger and inspiration of it all!
The Manhattan Girls by Gill Paul is published by Avon in paperback and ebook
About the Author
Gill Paul is an author of historical fiction, specialising in the twentieth century and often writing about the lives of real women. Her novels have topped bestseller lists in the US and Canada as well as the UK and have been translated into twenty languages.
The Secret Wife has sold over half a million copies and is a book-club favourite worldwide. This is her twelfth novel.
She is also the author of several non-fiction books on historical subjects.
She lives in London and swims year-round in a wild pond.