A spunky young woman dances her way up from a job as a chambermaid at London’s grandest hotel to a chorus girl and beyond during the Roaring ’20s.
Dorothy Lane is not known as Dolly Daydream for nothing. She may be washing clothes at London’s famed Savoy Hotel, but her head is filled with Jazz Age fantasies of appearing in the West End or Hollywood. The hotel is full of celebs and glitterati, the so-called Bright Young People of British society, who fill the bustling ballrooms. In the first of a number of improbably lucky coincidences, Dolly literally bumps into Perry Clements, the brother of Loretta May, her superstar idol, on the street. Shortly thereafter, in another stroke of unlikely good fortune, Perry advertises for a “muse,” and—surprise of surprises!—Dolly coincidentally answers the ad. At 32, Perry’s sister is the breathtaking beautiful darling of the gallery girls, of whom Dolly is one: shop girls and domestics who fill the cheap theater seats and live on tabloid accounts of the stars. Though she's only a few years older than Dolly, Loretta is world-weary, awash in gin and morphine, with secret health issues. In a blend of “Cinderella” and Pygmalion, (spoiler alert, but isn’t it predictable?), Dolly miraculously becomes Loretta’s protégée. Gaynor (The Girl Who Came Home, 2012, etc.), a good storyteller, mars her tale by straining too hard for profundity and relying on hyperbole; Loretta describes Dolly as “the kind of girl one discovers perhaps once in a decade, a rough diamond waiting to be polished and brought out to dazzle for all the world to see.” Though the book more than teases with romance-novel tropes—will Dolly end up with Perry or with her hometown amour Teddy Cooper, a solder broken by the Great War?—the only real romance here is between Dolly and the stage.
This flapper-era cocktail ultimately has more fizzle than fizz.