Book review: The One and Only Dolly Jamieson by Lisa Ireland

Tuesday, January 10, 2023 Permalink

What a delightful read The One and Only Dolly Jamieson by Lisa Ireland is! I would have read it in a sitting (in the bathtub) had I not had my mother visiting (at the time) and needed to be social and prepare dinner. I was reminded from previous books I’ve read by Ireland, she’s got the ability to create really warm and familiar characters that you feel as if you get to know – and perhaps – befriend, in the few hours you spend with them.

I loved the movement between Dolly’s early life (when she was plain old Margie Ferguson) and the Dolly we meet in the present. We learn things changed significantly for her but she doesn’t engender any pity or play the victim, rather there’s a stoicism about her that’s admirable and makes her even more engaging.

Book review: The One and Only Dolly Jamieson by Lisa IrelandThe One and Only Dolly Jamieson
by Lisa Ireland
Published by Michael Joseph
on 10/01/2023
Genres: General Fiction, Women's Fiction
ISBN: 9780143779889
Pages: 368

Dolly Jamieson is not homeless, she's merely between permanent abodes. The 78-year-old spends her days keeping warm at the local library, where she enjoys sparring with the officious head librarian and helping herself to the free morning tea. It's not so bad, really.

But it's certainly a far cry from the 1960s, when this humble girl from Geelong became an international star of the stage. As the acclaimed lead in the Broadway production of The Rose of France, all Dolly's dreams had come true.

So how, in her old age, did she end up here?

When Jane Leveson, a well-to-do newcomer to the library, shows an interest in Dolly, the pair strike up an unlikely friendship - and soon Jane is offering to help Dolly write her memoirs.

Yet Dolly can detect a deep sadness in the younger woman's eyes. Perhaps by working together to recount the glittering highs, devastating lows and tragic secrets of Dolly's life, both women can finally face their pasts and start to heal . . .

I liked the way Ireland holds back on sharing Jane’s story. Though we know something tragic has happened to her and her family – we don’t know the detail until late in the book, and the ‘reveal’ is well-timed and not at all as I’d imagined it.

I very much enjoyed learning about Dolly’s life and she’s a great narrator, blunt and pragmatic but larger-than-life at times as you’d expect from someone of her (showbiz) ilk.

I appreciated where Ireland ultimately takes the story of Dolly and Jane but did did find the pacing of the book to be a bit uneven. I wondered though perhaps it it’s more about where Ireland wanted the focus. The first half or more of the book gradually guides us through Dolly’s early years – the successes, her initial fame, then the challenges and the way in which she bounced back. Several times – in love and life.

The second half however moves at a faster pace. Almost too much so for me as it skims elements I’d loved to have heard more about – both in the past (though less-so) and present. Months in Dolly’s life pass quickly and I didn’t feel I had the chance to engage as much in that part of her story. As I said however, it could well be that the focus is meant to be about Dolly’s early life and ‘how’ she became the person she is when we meet her.

That being said I loved this book. Dolly’s life (and that of Jane’s) are – at times – tragic, but they’re balanced by hope and joy. And rather than cloyingly sweet, we get a satisfying end rather than a too-cliched happily ever after.

The One and Only Dolly Jamieson by Lisa Ireland was published in Australia by Michael Joseph (Penguin Random House) on 10 January 2023.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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