In brief: The Barbizon; Bright Burning Things; The Home Stretch – reviews

An elegant history of a women-only hotel; the story of a failed actor turned alcoholic… and who wants to be a domestic goddess?

The Barbizon: The New York Hotel That Set Women Free

Paulina Bren
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.

Bright Burning Things

Lisa Harding
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.

The Home Stretch: Why the Gender Revolution Stalled at the Kitchen Sink

Sally Howard
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.

To order The Barbizon, Bright Burning Things or The Home Stretch go to Delivery charges may apply


Hephzibah Anderson

The GuardianTramp

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