The Dressmaker

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One juicy 1950s revenge tale with bags of personality and social satire.

Exiled as a child for a murder she didn’t commit, Tilly Dunnage has always felt a shadow hanging over her life.

Now, 20 years later, Tilly has returned to her rural Australian hometown and she has a point to prove.

But can the small-minded residents really put the past behind them?

And what are they prepared to lose if they can’t?

The Dressmaker was the debut novel of Australian author, stage and radio play writer, Rosalie Ham.

The novel was first published in 2000 in Australia and has recently been published internationally alongside the release of the film adaption by the same name.

Her two other novels, Summer at Mount Hope (2005) and There Should be More Dancing (2011), are also set in rural Australia.  

The film adaption, starring Kate Winslet, Judy Davis and Liam Hemsworth, received 13 nominations from the AACTA Awards and went on to win 5 categories, including Best Lead Actress.

Whilst deviating strongly from the novel’s plot at times, the film is enjoyable and deeply satisfying. However, the novel contains many darker, juicy side plots that add so much to the story and personality of the characters.

The story is written in third person narrative and frequently moves between different characters’ perspectives within the chapters.

Whilst the story and town are indeed fictional, the novel is a brilliantly witty social satire that reflects the many prejudices and failings of a small rural town of the day.

The collection of eccentrics, gossips, adulterers, drunks and social climbers could easily be set in a variety of small towns internationally and this adds to the magic of the story.

Another wonderful feature of the novel is that the story implies and hints rather than spoon feeding its reader. This increases the satisfaction gleaned from reading some of the sticky consequences for residents.

I would however warn you at this point, if you do not like gore or graphic passages – this may be a book to avoid.

Whilst largely funny in many places, there are a number of dark and bloody scenes that are implied and occasionally frankly described throughout. You have been warned!

Tilly, as the main protagonist, is a wronged Gothic heroine who is witty, sophisticated and such an easy character to love and champion.

However, the stand out character for me is that of her neglected mother, Mad Molly.

Molly is brilliantly written – hilariously sarcastic, mischievous and stubborn – there is also a deep vulnerability and loneliness that underpins her story and her passages were some of my favourite in the novel.

Another hidden gem is the description used throughout to describe the fashion and clothing, which is both sumptuous and generous.

Such description was a welcome surprise and in my opinion more than enhanced the narrative – you could almost touch, smell and see the drapes of material!

Overall, a dark and deeply satisfying revenge tale full of gossip, plot twists and sex.

First published in the UK by Serpent’s Tail in 2015, The Dressmaker retails for £7.99. In the US the novel, published by Penguin in 2015, retails for $16.00.

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