The Dressmaker – Rosalie Ham

‘The sense of being well-dressed gives a feeling of inward tranquility which religion is powerless to bestow.’ Miss C.F. Forbes quoted by Ralph Waldo Emerson in Social Aims

The Dressmaker is a clever satire about village life. Though the novel is set in 1950s rural Australia, it reminds readers of hypocritical, mean-spirited microcosms everywhere.

A review of the dressmaker by CompulsiveReader.com

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It all started when Tilly decided she would go back to Dungatar.

Myrtle, now known as Tilly, has returned to her small hometown in Australia to care for her ailing mother Molly. She left some years ago in a cloud of suspicion in her part played in the death of a young boy, and now she’s come home to roost. A talented seamstress, Tilly is soon noticed by the towns-women who contract her to make their dresses. In a time when one of the only way women were able to express themselves freely – through their clothes and hairdos – Tilly takes advantage of the women’s attraction to her craftsmanship.
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During her absence, Tilly trained as an expert dressmaker in Paris, and the garments she makes are stunning. Her mother, the town whore, has gone so crazy you wonder why no one’s locked the old bat up in an asylum. Anything would be better than the filth she’s living in now. Tilly dazzles the town with her dresses, not that the residents are worth impressing.

‘Some people have more pain than they deserve, some don’t.’

The cast was overwhelmingly large (a town’s worth) and, even having finished it, I’m still having a hard time getting everyone straight. Ms. Ham’s attempt at memorable characters was a letdown and, instead, every person in this book was a complete caricature: there’s the frumpy spinster, the highbrow mother-in-law, the crossdressing sheriff. By the end of the book, there’s an odd veer into a town production of a Shakespeare play and a baffling moment when Tilly gets her revenge that left me scratching my head.

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What these rugby-loving, gossip-mongering, one-upmanship-practicing and universally flawed townsfolk get up to is boggling. With the exception of two characters there wasn’t a totally lovable one in the bunch and I enjoyed every minute of their escapades.

This is a well-written story about an isolated small town where the residents think they can get away with anything only to discover that revenge definitely is a dish best served cold.

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