If you love “where are they now?”-type articles, or find yourself wondering whatever became of your favourite screen stars as a child, you need to read The One And Only Dolly Jamieson – the latest novel by Australian author Lisa Ireland. I’ve not read any of her books before, but I was excited to start with this one when Penguin Australia sent me a copy for review.
The story is told in two timelines. The first, in present-ish day London, follows a 78-year-old unhoused woman who used to be a Broadway star. She meets a younger woman, in considerable distress, at the local library (a “sanctuary for the lonely”) and they get to talking. This stranger, Jane, sparks an idea in Dolly – that she might write and publish her memoirs.
The second timeline, told in alternate chapters, follows Dolly’s past – beginning with her birth in 1940s regional Australia. It details how she came from humble (in fact, tragic) beginnings to find her voice and make it to the Big Time, starring in shows on Broadway and the West End.
The historical fiction aspect of The One And Only Dolly Jamieson is nice and gives important context, but I found myself most looking forward to the present-ish day chapters. I’m partial to older women characters, first of all. I also found the practicalities of being unhoused, and the sub-plot of Jane’s dark past, truly fascinating.
(And on that note, don’t skip the wonderful Author’s Note at the end of The One And Only Dolly Jamieson about the shocking increase in homelessness for older women over the past decade. It’s a wonderful place to start if it’s a cause that concerns you – and it should.)
I will also note that there are a few tiny inconsistencies in The One And Only Dolly Jamieson that might bug eagle-eyed readers, but in my view they’re forgiveable given the full-hearted story and characters. Good on Lisa Ireland for bringing this story to the world.
Buy The One And Only Dolly Jamieson on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)