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Having got myself all geared up for a bit of crime, this week I chose…

The Dressmaker

Book 17 – The Dressmaker, by Rosalie Ham. This is the story of Tilly  Dunnage, who returns as an adult to the small Australian town she was forced to leave at 10 years old. Her return is unwelcome by both the townsfolk, who remember her implication in the death of her classmate, and her mother, Mad Molly, who lives with a possum in a dilapidated shack on the hill overlooking the town tip.

As Tilly’s dressmaking skills allow her a small glimpse into the town, and the love of local football hero Teddy give her strength and support, she starts to feel hopeful for the future.  But despite her skills, she is not acceptable, and her ejection from social life starts a chain of events that lead to the transformation of the community and the chance for Tilly to finally get her revenge…

There are a couple of spoilers ahead, which I have highlighted.

This book gives me pause.  It wasn’t at all what I was expecting and I think that’s part of my issue.  About three chapters in, there was already a huge amount that I really didn’t like. In fact, I thought it was pretty vile and almost stopped reading. The townspeople were nasty, ugly-souled, cruel and indistinguishably horrible. I carried on, but I never really got a lot of joy from the book.

The more the fashion came into it, and the more the outward appearances were improved as a result of Tilly’s skill, the more it became clear that it was their insides that were wrong. If I had to say what was the strongest part of the book, it was the use of the beautiful wardrobes and the wonderful materials to show how appearance was all.

But our heroine wasn’t entirely heroic either. In fact (spoiler alert) her vengeance at the end of the book was arbitrary, damaging even those who had stood beside her when she was an outcast (spoiler over!).

There are some lovely elements to the writing and the story, little poetic moments and scenes where the characters seem genuine and believable.  One of my favourites was Mad Molly whose erratic and dangerous behaviour was interspersed with the mundane and the beautiful; this was a believable portrayal of dementia.  Unfortunately, the underlying ugliness – and removal of its counterbalance in Teddy and his family – meant the story was just shade, with no light available.

This is a book I have to think about a bit more, because despite its commercial success (having been made into a film) I just didn’t feel it. I looked at goodreads, and it does seem to be a Marmite book.  A lot of my own discomfort is reflected – too many characters, who are too stereotypical, and too predictable in their behaviour; too much abusive behaviour; too much random description of genitalia in weird contexts.  It all took me out of the book and made me a little impatient to be getting on.

I liked Tilly as a woman, but the ongoing references to her beauty as though it made her somehow better than others was obvious.  And (spoiler alert again) the description of her ‘country-ruddy’ face just before she destroys the town weirdly suggests being normal-looking is related to cruelty and wickedness, at least in the universe this book inhabits (spoiler over).

Yeah, the more I type, the more I think this book wasn’t for me.  It was so frequently unpleasant, and no amount of glamorous outfits overcame that.  I’m sure some of you would enjoy it but it’s not my style at all.

Next time I’m reading something that’s fun!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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