*Requisite spoiler warning.
I love old houses for the stories they seem to hold, particularly places where it seems as though the owners have just picked up and left. I love generational sagas too, the types of stories where you see how the family stories intertwine and get to trace characters growing up, disappearing and reappearing and making you gasp, “Oh, so that’s what happened to him!” So the collaborative novel from Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig, The Forgotten Room, looked to be right up my alley.
The Forgotten Room follows three different women in New York City in three different times: Olive in 1892, Lucy in 1920, and Kate in 1944. They all come to the same building, an old mansion (well, new in Olive’s time, a hospital in Kate’s) searching for answers about what happened to their family. And they all meet men, whose connections to the Pratt mansion run equally deep. Each new couple delves a little bit deeper into the mystery of the previous generation, which the authors handle well – the reader knows more than the characters do, but never enough to completely solve the puzzle until all is unveiled at the proper moment.
I also saw a certain amount of developing feminism in each of the women’s experiences. Having recently lost her father, Olive pushes back against the strictures of 1890s society with her reluctance to marry the first man who comes along. She prioritizes finding the truth about her father’s death over her mother’s expectations, which is a small battle but a significant one for her time. Lucy makes further steps with her refusal to become the secretary who sleeps with her boss, even going so far as to turn him down flat in a speakeasy. Even more than Olive, Lucy insists on moving forward on her own terms, whether romantically or careerwise.
Kate’s struggle with blatant workplace misogyny and sexual harassment is the most obvious instance of feminism in the novel. Her male supervisor not only sneers at the idea of a female doctor, but regularly undermines her treatment of her patients – when he’s not trying to get her alone in the storage closet. Frankly, it was this battle against sexism, particularly when a young nurse looked to Kate as an ally and role model, that interested me more than any romantic entanglements. That was where the novel fell short for me: these women had their own original motivations and desires, but that independence was quickly thrown out when they met The Man in their respective stories. Though the ending(s) were cute enough, it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for.
Still, the parallel stories and the building tension as the generational mystery continued were intriguing enough to give this 4/5 stars on Goodreads.