My friends and I have a monthly book club, and this month I chose the book. I chose The One and Only Dolly Jamieson by Lisa Ireland, after hearing some of my writer friends and colleagues talking about it at brunch earlier this year.
Today my friends and I came together to discuss the book, and we all agreed it was beautiful.
I listened to the audio and the narration by Taylor Olwynns had me hooked. I was totally engrossed in Dolly Jamieson’s world. I didn’t want it to end.
Dolly Jamieson is an older woman who’s led a full life – a seemingly illustrious acting career, but also much heartbreak, loss and shame.
The story is set in London in 2019, where Dolly is homeless, or between abodes” as she prefers to say, after losing her home and wealth when her husband died a few years earlier. She meets Jane, a quiet and kind stranger, while in the library – a safe refuge for Dolly and many others who are lonely or alone. I loved how the library is celebrated in this book – libraries really do change lives.
The book also flashes back through Dolly’s life – in Geelong, Melbourne, Sydney, New York and London – detailing the start of her career, her loves, the losses she’s endured, and her hearty resilience and dignity throughout. There was a recurring theme of how peoples’ lives can change in an instant – for the worst, but also for the better.
Lisa Ireland has created such a wonderfully deep character in Dolly, and the supporting characters are intriguing, too.
It’s a book that explores women ageing, becoming homelessness and becoming invisible – because of caring roles, unstable work and a lack of knowledge about social supports . It also touches on shame – and shaking it off, and much more (that I don’t want to give away).
Above all, Dolly Jamieson is about friendship between women of different generations – Jane and Dolly’s friendship is delightful, and Dolly helps Jane shake her shame as much as Jane helps Dolly. And it’s about the power of being seen – Jane’s kindness in taking Dolly in helps Dolly become seen through a hot shower and clean clothes, as well as assisting Dolly to tell her life story.
I also loved Lisa Ireland’s end chapter in her own words (and voice) about the inspiration behind the book, and some statistics about the increasing prevalence of women’s homelessness.
Five dazzling stars.