“The Dressmaker” by Rosalie Ham

Are you the sort of person who has to read a book before you can watch the movie? Well, I am that sort of person, and when I saw the trailer for an upcoming movie called “The Dressmaker” I knew that I just had to get my hands on the book first.  And I am so happy that I did.

The Dressmaker

“The Dressmaker” by Rosalie Ham

“The Dressmaker” presents a cleverly written satire on village life.  Set in 1950’s rural Australia, it reminds readers that you can find hypocrisy and mean-spirited microcosms anywhere and everywhere.

A prodigal daughter returns to the fictional town of Dungatar, giving the residents a second chance to be kind, open-minded and outward-looking.  It opens with the town’s Sergeant Farrat recognising the chic woman of thirty, standing on the station platform, as Myrtle Dunnage.  He immediately thinks “No one else knows she’s here”, an observation that cleverly piques the reader’s interest.  He offers her a ride to her mother’s home – a decrepit, rundown home located on a hilltop overlooking the town.  Myrtle, or “Tilly” as she has come to call herself, discovers that her mother is suffering from dementia and has neglected homely cares.  While Tilly cleans the house, the reader is given the sense that her return to Dungatar is not only out of daughterly concern, but also for other reasons.

Not unlike the literary genius that was Charles Dickens, Rosalie Ham has given her characters names that reflect their personal traits.  For example, our protagonist Myrtle has a given name with positive connotations; the Myrtle is a beautiful and rare fragrant evergreen.  However, her surname Dunnage refers to the material that is placed under cargo to prevent it from getting wet; it is something that can be useful but is also expendable.

You might ask – who are the Dungatar residents?  The Dungatar residents are cross-dressing, cheating-on-spouses and abusing-of-spouses townsfolk, but they all turn a blind eye to such shenanigans.  But what is the one “sin” that the cannot condone? Unwed motherhood and illegitimacy.  Consequently, Molly Dunnage and her daughter Tilly are the town pariahs, and it is noted that Tilly has repeatedly been called a “bastard”.  Tilly is undoubtedly the underdog in the novel.

What was particularly satisfying about this book is that the reader gets to revel in the triumph of an underdog.  Not only was Tilly good to her persecutors, but she also gave them a second chance to treat her with decency and respect.

The structure of this book was crafted to contain four sections: Gingham, Shantung, Felt and Brocade.  For those who are acquainted with a more-than-remedial knowledge of sewing, you will realise that this is where the motif of sewing is first introduced into the novel.  Gingham is a simple yet versatile type of cotton.  It conveys to the reader that, in section one, you will be introduced to a variety of ordinary characters.  Shantung is a rich, textured fabric that is woven from wild silk, and conveys to the reader that Tilly’s creativity, which stems from her irregular past, aids in the creation of beautiful clothing to make the local woman look stylish and luxurious.  Felt is a sturdy fabric, illustrating to the reader that the third section is where local matters come to a boiling point, requiring Tilly to retain her inner strength.  Brocade is an opulent material, which is fitting as Tilly creates baroque costumes that ooze opulence and expense, whilst perpetrating an elaborately crafted revenge plan.

Overall I found that this novel was a delightful read, and I thoroughly enjoyed every single page turn.  I only hope that Kate Winslet brings this character as alive in the movie as Rosalie Ham has done in the novel.

Enjoy the read!

Lizzie x

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