It’s 1922 in the Manhattan of gin, jazz and prosperity. Women wear makeup and hitched hemlines – and enjoy a new freedom to vote and work. Not so Evelyn Lockhart, forbidden from pursuing her passion: to become one of the first female doctors.
Chasing her dream will mean turning her back on the only life she knows: her competitive sister, Viola; her conservative parents; and the childhood best friend she is expected to marry, Charlie.
And if Evie does fight Columbia University’s medical school for acceptance, how will she support herself? So when there’s a casting call for the infamous late-night Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, will Evie find the nerve to audition? And if she does, what will it mean for her fledgling relationship with Upper East Side banker Thomas Whitman, a man Evie thinks she could fall in love with, if only she lived a life less scandalous?
Since reading A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald, I have been trying to gather my thoughts together to write a review that will do this book justice. As the year draws to a close, I would have to say that A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald is my top pick for the best historical fiction novel of 2016.
Why do I rate this book so highly? Well it has a lot to do with a combination of the book’s features that click together in such a fashion that it just works so well. The main character of Lester’s novel is perhaps the overwhelming reason why I fell in love with this novel. Evelyn “Evie” Lockhart is a woman ahead of her time. A tragic medical incident that plays out near her home, involving a fallen young woman and the loss of an innocent newborn, strengthens Evie’s resolve to help these women. Virtually unheard at the time, Evie embarks on a career to become a doctor, hoping to specialise as an obstetrician. Evie’s story highlights the restrictions placed on women in the 1920’s era in which the novel is set. Evie faces struggle at every corner. She faces difficulty in simply trying to be accepted as a legitimate student at medical school, as well as to support herself financially. This leads Evie to embark upon another standout layer of the story that I enjoyed immensely. Evie becomes one of the Ziegfeld Follies by night, dancing and entertaining to pay her way at university. A beautiful love story also plays out in A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald. The burgeoning romance between Evie and Thomas Whitman, a successful city banker, literally swept me off me feet. Scandal, glamour, complicated pathways to love and ambition characterises this stunning historical novel.
A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald is an exquisite novel. I felt it was a book that succeeds in breaking the mould, delivering a ground breaking story of a woman who tries and succeeds, at achieving her dreams. There is no doubt that Lester has researched the aspects that informs her novel meticulously. Prior to reading this novel, I knew little about female doctors making their mark in the 1920’s. I also had not come across the Ziegfeld Follies. This was a highly captivating part of the novel for me.
Setting is a true strength in A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald. I welcomed the lavish and detailed descriptions of life in 1920’s New York and in the 1920’s as a whole. Lester’s prose is assured and it guides the reader through the stunning setting backdrop with perfect ease.
As I mentioned above, what makes A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald a magical piece of historical literature, is the character of Evie Lockhart. She is easy to fall in love with. I admired her drive and steep determination to make a difference to women’s lives. I also loved that this character had a vulnerable side, which Lester explores at many points in the novel. The characters who support Evie along her journey all served an important purpose in the whole direction of the novel. Each of these characters somehow manage to capture my heart in their own special ways.
A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald is an elegant and eloquent piece of historical fiction that I devoured from cover to cover. It is completely deserving of a five star rating and I highly recommend this novel to lovers of the historical fiction genre.