The Dressmaker – book review


Rating: 3 Stars

“After twenty years spent mastering the art of dressmaking at couture houses in Paris, Tilly Dunnage returns to the small Australian town she was banished from as a child.  She plans only to check on her ailing mother and leave.  But Tilly decides to stay, and though she is still an outcast, her lush, exquisite dresses prove irresistible to the prim women of Dungatar.  Through her fashion business, her friendship with Sergeant Farrat – the town’s only policeman, who harbors an unusual passion for fabrics – and a budding romance with Teddy, the local football star whose family is almost as reviled as hers, she finds a measure of grudging acceptance.  But as her dresses to begin to arouse competition and envy in town, causing old resentments to surface, it becomes clear that Tilly’s mind is set on a darker design: exacting revenge on those who wronged her, in the most spectacular fashion.”

I began reading this book thinking I knew what to expect.  A young woman returns home after years away, now a successful dressmaker, the envy of the townspeople who had earlier wronged her and that success was the best revenge.  Not quite.  Myrtle Dunnage did leave her hometown of Dungatar, a small town in Australia, that is populated by the most small minded, jealous and downright meanest people.

Myrtle, also known as Tilly, returns home to live with her mother Molly, who is called “Mad Molly” by the townspeople.  She does act insane.  She treats Tilly abhorrently and yet Tilly is very devoted to her mother and ignores her mother’s deplorable treatment of her.

Myrtle trained abroad as a dressmaker and her sewing skills are masterful.  She creates dresses that make the ladies of Dungatar salivate and come knocking at her door, eager for her to fill their wardrobes with her exquisite creations.

For me the first half of the book dragged on and there are so many different characters that I had a hard time remembering who everyone was.  It wasn’t until the second half of the book that it started to pick up and explanations for Tilly’s original departure start to materialize and the book takes a more emotional and darker turn.  Details of Tilly’s past emerge and there are moments of heartbreak and grief.  Tilly’s character becomes more fleshed out as we learn about what she has endured.

This is a book about bullying at all stages of life and revenge.  The meanness of small minded people can penetrate the lives of their victims in ways the perpetrators cannot fathom  This was not always an easy read for me.  I found the author’s writing style fell short of grabbing my attention completely.  It obviously caught the attention of some people because it was made into a movie.  I’ve seen the commercial for the movie and it in no way conveys the true essence of the story.  After reading the book I found the commercial to be misleading, presenting it as a fun, lighthearted movie instead of the dark and sad story that it actually is.

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