Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman

The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman, was a very well-written book, but ultimately, was not for me.  It came highly recommended by several friends, but I am just not a big historical fiction reader and should have known better.  It took me a very long time to finish and in the end, I'm not certain it was worth my time to slog through.

In 19th century England, Gustine is an impoverished young mother, indentured to her landlord Whilky Robinson as his "dress lodger" - she wears an elegant gown of his and works as a prostitute, with the idea that the gown brings a higher class of clientele and with it, higher profits.  When the opportunity presents itself for her to provide much needed medical care for her son, she grabs it, even though it means procuring corpses for a local surgeon upon which to practice operating.  All of this is set among the backdrop of a devastating outbreak of cholera morbus.

The book is cleverly narrated, and shifts between perspectives adeptly.  It winds through several lives, though of course, focuses mainly on the titular dress lodger.  It is a bleak, sad book that has drawn comparisons to Dickens in tone, and while I'm regrettably not well-versed in the latter, it does seem to share his rather pessimistic (some might prefer to say realistic) sensibilities.  This is a not an idealized picture of England but rather a harsh look into class differences, the lives of the very poor, and the utter disregard with which their lives were viewed by the upper classes. 

If you enjoy historical fiction, particularly that with a dark edge, I'd recommend this book to you.  I can't fault Holman's writing.

No comments:

Post a Comment