The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

The Dressmaker by Rosalie HamIt’s a few weeks since I finished reading The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham but it is still on my mind.  It’s a popular kind  of book with me – a straightforward tale of life in a small Australian rural town. The author has let her imagination run wild to include  many variations  of human behavior in her range of characters.

Forced to leave town as a teenager  Myrtle Dunnage, known as Tilly, returns to care for her mother who lives on a rise on the outskirts of town. The teenager has matured and become a dressmaker of couture standard, quite different to the girl who went away.  Gradually some of the town come to use her skills as a dressmaker  but do not welcome her back into the life of the town.

I smiled and  I laughed at a lovely sense of oneupmanship.   I wept when there was a death as I moved through the book.

But then  a sense of unease started to sneak into my feelings.  This book is so deceptive.  It reels you in  with its sense of humour and beautiful clothes while all the time a tragedy of classic proportions is slowly taking shape.

My friends laugh and smile when asked how they enjoyed the book.  They talk of the clothes which Tilly makes. But time has leeched the humour and the clothes from my memory of the book and all I am left with is this feeling of doom.

It is a small town.  Everyone knows everyone.  And they seem unable to face the truth about a tragic accident years earlier. Tilly was blamed  whereas the town needs to take one step further back and look at the bully who was the real cause of the accident. They seemed unable to do that. So much easier to blame the misfit than the son of a “respectable” family.

Tilly cares for her aging mother, she makes beautiful clothes for all who ask her, and she proffers well-founded advice which is rejected.  The tension is building for the townspeople to be humiliated and Tilly’s final act before leaving town has unexpected far-reaching tragic effects.

Am I reading more into it than the author  intended ? Perhaps it is the same for everyone – it is what is inside us that makes us interpret the book in different ways. But I judge a book by what remains with me after the details have leeched away and in this case it was the way the author lulled me into a warm and comfortable feeling, wallowing in the nostalgia of small town life, while all the time the destruction of a town is bubbling away underneath

But then that’s just my opinion.  And what  do I know.  But then I do know that I will be re-reading this book and that I look forward to seeing how the upcoming movie with Kate Winslett will interpret the story and how the reviewers will rave about the clothes  !

 

Stranded by books

lazycoffees:

I have re-blogged this as it is an Australian’s view of a New York bookshop.

Originally posted on TheFitzyreport:

The Strand is no ordinary bookshop. It is more a NYC destination where book lovers congregate, where you can peruse old and new papered treasures, find staff recommendations on a good read, wear something out of print, meet Kazuo Ishiguro or Peppa Pig, or simply breathe in history. This iconic cornerstone on Broadway and 12th has been flourishing for nearly 90 years, and as fast as new purchases pour out the front door, old books are recycled back through the side, ensuring that 18 miles of books will be a permanent, if not increasing, boast by the establishment.

A booklined stairwell connects the labyrinth of the basement to the busy fictional floor and then to the children’s and art books upstairs. Days could be dedicated to learning how to draw mustaches 20 different ways, to the seclusion of poet’s corner, to finding first and last editions, and to finding the…

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Three Little Words “fit the bill” in Wolf Hall

I am completely enraptured by the BBC production of Wolf Hall.  At times I call it Wolf Hall for Dummies as it is so easy to understand – I didn’t finish the book.  Much as I enjoy most historical novels and biographies this one wasn’t to my taste.

But that is beside the point.  It is the language  in the novel and the TV production  which interests me.  At no time in the written word or on the TV screen did I feel uncomfortable with the language.  It was so natural I didn’t even stop to think that this was not necessarily the type of speech that was used in the early 1500s.

So I found it surprising to read in English newspapers  the complaints about a word which nowadays is not acceptable in polite society but in the time of Henry VIII was in fairly common usage.  I didn’t even have a flicker of discomfort .  It was perfectly OK in a bit of man talk for those times.

But, and it’s a big but, I lost the thread and my jaw dropped when Jane Seymour said she would find a prayer which would “fit the bill”.  Fit the Bill.  To me that is completely out of character.  Modern English is used  in the novel but to me it is modern English devoid of any really quirky sayings which don’t really” fit the bill” for a story about Cromwell. This would have been used  in the second novel which I didn’t buy but I presume the saying was used by Hilary Mantel.  The saying  originally cropped up in a written work early in the 1800s but is still widely used today.

The Oxford and Cambridge English Dictionaries are a good source of information  for the using and  meanings of words  in classic novels or in  period pieces written more recently. .They do a wonderful job of getting back to the  original meanings of words instead of just parroting current usages as many of the contemporary dictionaries do.

And so back to the BBC and the wonderful portrayal of Cromwell, You see the story through Cromwell’s eyes and Mark Rylance’s subtle portrayal  is so good that you can almost tell what Cromwell is thinking.

So I will forget “fit the bill” and go back to adoring the BBC’s Wolf Hall.  I didn’t even notice the white teeth which niggles with some people as reported in The Guardian

In the meantime full marks to the designers and their choice of a  colour palette.  Combined with candles it is just  perfect.

Reading for Women in 1939

lazycoffees:

A surprise find – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier being serialized in a 1939 Australian Woman’s magazine, .

Originally posted on Bound for Australia:

This week Sepia Saturday has invited us to start with an old advertisement.  And so I chose this one from a coverless copy of the  Australian magazine Woman  of  5th June, 1939 .  Who could have imagined instant hot water in the kitchen sink.  No more carrying kettles of boiling water over to the sink from the stove.  Marvellous.

sink HWS 1939The magazine has an advertisement on nearly every page with a strong emphasis on cures for colds, tinned food, bile beans, pick-me-up Worcestershire sauce, sewing machines – all things to tempt the housewife.

But I was in for a surprise.  Do you remember this famous opening line ?

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again

This was from Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier  and here it is being serialized in a 1939 magazine.  In this issue they are up to Chapter 6, soon after Mrs van Hopper…

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Mrs Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

It all happened because I had been ill. The painkillers had been making my brain woolly and I couldn’t concentrate and yet it was so frustrating lying there with only my own thoughts –  books, music and television; nothing could hold my attention. None of the unread books on my mini iPad were in the least interesting.  So I made yet another try at the Library to find something readable to download   The first book my eyes alighted on was Mrs Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children  by Ransom Riggs.

With a name like Mrs Peregrine my muddled thought processes assumed it be be yet another pleasant  offering from Persephone Books.  Such gentle, pleasant books. Sure to be just what the patient needed.  After all, Mrs Buncle’s stories came from Persephone so surely Mrs Peregrine must also be from that stable.  How wrong I could be.

Peregrine 1

The front cover with a levitating girl.

What I found was  schoolboy  Jacob who had long listened to his Grandfather’s tales of escaping from war torn Europe and his life in an orphanage on an island off the Welsh coast.  After his grandfather’s mysterious death  the 16 year old manages to visit the island and finds out about the time loop and the magical people who inhabited his grandfather’s world. It was when I finished that I found out that I had been reading a Young Adult novel. So now I can join the local librarian with teenage children who is a great fan of Young Adult novels.

 

The book evolved from a series of strange old  photos the author had collected

I’m beginning to wonder though how many of the book bloggers I follow actually read just for the pleasure of reading or are just racing ahead to keep up a monthly quota or to fulfill an obligation to review. Does that affect  their enjoyment of reading ? I enjoy reading reviews except for those few who give away so much of the plot that it’s hardly worth reading the book. But while I’m reading I don’t want to have part of me making mental notes of points worth including in a review.  I just want to immerse myself in the book and when finished take the time to stop and smell the roses before diving into the next.  Luckily we are all different.

And so, after an interval of Mrs Peregrine wafting  along behind me, I now remember her Home and its occupants with amusement and affection

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The MiniaturistWell done, Jessie.  There is no two ways about it.  I enjoyed this book.

What is puzzling me is how it came about that I read it.  It turned up at the library one day as something that I had placed a hold on many weeks before.  I had obviously read about it somewhere but I can find no trace of it in the blogs which I read regularly.  So whoever it was who gave me just enough information about the book to make it enticing, I thank you.

A young country girl comes to Amsterdam as the wife of an older man.  It is the 17th century and she enters an established household of husband, stern sister-in-law and a couple of servants.  She comes with no secrets but with her intelligent observant mind she soon becomes aware of the atmosphere of secrets in the house. Over the course of the book the secrets slowly unravel and the bride is gradually absorbed into and becomes a trusted member of  the household.

This is all set among burghers and merchants, Guilds and Church, the wharves and canals of C17th Amsterdam.   There is also a slight tinge of the supernatural  with a miniaturist making tiny models for a miniature house. This merely heightens the tension.  But it is the people in the house who dominate.

Jessie Burton writes beautifully but much as I love my British History it is such a pleasure to get away from Kings, Queens and the aristocracy.  They have been so done to death.

I prefer the stories which move away from the well documented “upper classes” and tell us stories about the remaining  great majority of the people. Books like “Year of Wonders” by Geraldine Brooks and  “Harvest” by Jim Grace, both about villagers dealing with unusual circumstances.  And this time a young bride dealing with unusual circumstances.

Soon after i started reading I started wondering if this debut novel is on one of lists of books being considered for a prize.  I feel it is worthy of being there.

This book is also a good advertisement for telling a story chronologically. None of the annoying habit of leaving a story hanging and  going back in time to give us large swag of explanations instead of just dripping information  into the story as needed..

I’ll say it again, Well done, Jessie  I look forward to your  next book.