Two Roads, £20, pp336
Built during the roaring 20s and lingering until 2007, when it was inevitably converted into multimillion-dollar condos, the Barbizon was a legend in its heyday. As the most elite of New York’s women-only hotels, it provided a tony Upper East Side address and safe harbour for generations of young women newly arrived with dreams to fulfil. Grace Kelly, Liza Minnelli, Joan Didion – all were residents, along with Sylvia Plath, who later spilled its secrets in The Bell Jar. This is the first real history of the place, and it’s a treat, elegantly spinning a forgotten story of female liberation, ambition and self-invention. The fate of those who didn’t make it adds a note of melancholy complexity.
Bloomsbury, £14.99, pp320
Harding’s well-crafted second novel conjures up the life of Sonya, a failed actor and floundering single mum in Dublin, whose need for a steadying glass of wine has bloomed into full-on alcoholism. Her days are shaped by impulsive highs and lows, “thoughts tossed and rushing”, while her four-year-old son, Tommy, and their shaggy-haired rescue pup, Herbie, look anxiously on. When her estranged father stages an intervention, she agrees to enter a nun-run rehab, but her struggles are only just beginning. It’s a wild ride, culminating in a final scene that combines hope, fear and beauty.
Atlantic, £9.99, pp352 (paperback)
If there were ever any doubts about this book’s premise – that, despite decades of workplace advances, women continue to bear more than their fair share of the domestic load – then a year of lockdowns has laid them fully to rest. It was motherhood that brought it all home to journalist Howard, and personal experience warms a narrative that braids history with sharp reportage, managing to feel invigorating even if the truths it conveys are profoundly frustrating. Will any of her home schooling-addled cohort have the bandwidth for this book at the moment? Possibly not, but then they’re not really the ones who need to read it.