Book review: Searching for Grace Kelly by M. G. Callahan

New York in the Fifties… a city of glitz and glamour, poised between the past and a brave new world, where dreams come true and lives can be broken.
Searching for Grace Kelly by M. G. CallahanSearching for Grace Kelly by M. G. Callahan
Searching for Grace Kelly by M. G. Callahan

Like moths to a flame, three young women from very different backgrounds and with very different jobs have gravitated to the bright lights in search of fame, success and romance. What they each find will alter their lives forever.

Take a trip back in time to the Big Apple when America – and the Western world – stood on the cusp of a social revolution. The times were a-changing, women were looking beyond the ties of hearth and home, and were eager to savour the taste of freedom.

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Journalist M.G.Callahan, who recently took up a new position as contributing editor for Vanity Fair, brings to life this exciting era in a compelling and vibrant debut novel, packed with romance, drama and tragedy.

From New York’s famous Barbizon Hotel for women – where Grace Kelly famously stayed as she launched her film career – to the bars of Greenwich Village, Callahan perfectly captures the moment in time when women’s role in society was still restricted but about to take a giant leap forward.

For any girl with big dreams in 1955 there is no address more desirable than the Barbizon Hotel, once a temporary resting place for the likes of Grace Kelly, writer and poet Sylvia Plath and film star Joan Crawford.

Twenty-year-old Laura Dixon, an aristocratic beauty from Connecticut, arrives at the hotel ready to start an internship at Mademoiselle, the most fashionable magazine for American college girls. She dreams of becoming a writer and can’t wait to immerse herself in a city teeming with life, ‘each tiny lit window a tale.’

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Her roommate at the Barbizon is short, stout Dolores ‘Dolly’ Hickey from Utica in the Mohawk Valley, a hopeless romantic who is working during the holidays in a secretarial pool and wants nothing more than to be swept off her feet.

The trio is completed by British redhead Vivian Windsor, the sort of girl other girls want to be… bold, witty, dangerous and unpredictable. She’s working at the famous Stork Club as a cigarette girl but it’s only a stopgap because Vivian has set her sultry sights on being a singer.

Soon, Vivian is dating the attractive, slick but increasingly malevolent mobster Nicky Accardi, Laura has caught the eye of Box Barnes, heir to a NYC department store empire, and Dolly is falling for a man of mystery who seems unwilling to reveal anything about himself.

Before the end of that exhilarating summer, the plans and dreams of these three young, impatient and curious women are in danger of going horribly wrong.

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Searching for Grace Kelly, with its nostalgic feel and references, gives us a fascinating glimpse into the razzle dazzle of 1950s New York… the places, the music, the clothes, the big names, the cosmopolitan city they inhabited, and the darkness that simmered below the glittering surface.

Callahan’s sharp observations infuse a story that celebrates the romantic, energising side of the city but also makes reference to the vulnerability of those too innocent for its cynicism and the tragedy of those consumed by its many perils.

An enchanting novel with an engaging streak of realism…

(Sphere, paperback, £7.99)