Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘Book Review’

Facing Unpleasant Facts by George Orwell

When I read Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell I was extraordinarily impressed by the clarity of Orwell’s writing and the straightforward, take-it-or leave-it style of his writing voice. I was delighted to find the essays in Facing Unpleasant Facts to be equally as well written, thought-provoking and honest.

One of the qualities I most admire in writing is fearlessness, and Orwell writes what he is thinking and feeling despite knowing that his views will be unpopular in certain quarters. His honesty in certain essays was hard to read, such as in A Hanging, when the sound of the condemned Burmese man’s last prayers left Orwell and those around him wishing for the actual hanging to take place, to bring an end to the man’s prayers which the listeners couldn’t bear hearing. To think such a thing is deplorable but human, to say it is an example of the fearlessness in writing that I admire.

Shooting an Elephant was another extraordinarily frank account. When Orwell was working as a police officer in Burma an elephant went mad and although he could have left the animal peacefully grazing in a paddock after the initial rampage ended, he felt obligated to shoot the elephant dead because of the expectations of the large crowd of watching Burmese people who had become interested in the affair once he had called for a gun. The last sentence of this essay states that his only reason for shooting the elephant was to avoid looking like a fool in front of the watching crowd.

Orwell’s first sentence of every essay is stunning. Each hits the reader with a terrible truth (or an unpleasant fact) and leaves them wanting to know more. For example, Marrakech begins with:

As the corpse went past the flies left the restaurant table in a cloud and rushed after it, but they came back a few minutes later.

Or, from England Your England:

As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.

A great many of the essays are written around the time of World War Two. Orwell gave his opinion on a variety of topics, including saying that British and American soldiers couldn’t socialise with each other because the American soldiers were paid far more money than the British. In Revenge is Sour he described the incongruity of a former enemy of the Germans sharing his coffee with a German family soon after the end of the war. In Dear Doktor Goebbels – Your British Friends Are Feeding Fine! he wrote about rich people breaking the law to avoid food rationing. I found it interesting that although Orwell didn’t approve of their actions he wasn’t overtly scathing of the rule-breakers, instead using his matter-of-fact voice to describe how they managed to bypass the rules and eat well while poorer people made do with far less, leaving it up to the reader to decide if they disapprove or not.

Domestic matters were addressed in The Case for an Open Fire, where Orwell suggested that a fire was an unrivalled gathering point for a family and that functionalism was overrated, and In Defence of English Cooking he praised English cheeses, puddings, sauces and breads. A Nice Cup of Tea provided Orwell’s eleven outstanding points to be followed to make a perfect cup of tea.

The Moon Under Water described the most idyllic English pub imaginable, but brought the reader back to reality and to their own lack-lustre local with a thud.

I had been particularly looking forward to reading Why I Write and enjoyed it very much when I did. Orwell was very hard on his early writing which according to him contained too much ‘purple prose.’ His reasons for why writers write were interesting too and they included, egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historic impulse and political purpose. I believe my reasons fall into the ‘egoism’ category, although I tell myself that they are for historic purposes (so I can remember what I’ve already read as I grow older).

How the Poor Die was a gut wrenching essay to read. Hospitals and nursing have come a long, long way.

The book ended with Such, Such Were the Joys which told of Orwell’s time as a child at boarding school. St Cyprian’s was a cruel place, however I would have liked to have learn more about how (or if) the school’s teaching program influenced his writing.

The foreword by George Packer introduced Orwell as a master of essays and having read this collection, I couldn’t agree more.

Kokomo by Victoria Hannan

I bought Kokomo by Australian author Victoria Hannan despite the cover, which I didn’t like at all. After reading the story and discovering the main themes are unfulfilled wants and desires, I realised why this image and colour scheme were chosen, though and believe they suit the story.

Kokomo was told in two halves. The first half followed Mina, a hardworking copy editor living in London who was hopeful of receiving a much-deserved promotion at work. Mina was also on the brink of starting a love affair with her colleague Jack, when her best friend Kira phoned with the news that Mina’s mother, who had not left her home since the death of Mina’s father many years ago, had unexpectedly left her house in Melbourne.

Mina dropped everything to fly home to Melbourne but when she arrived, found her mother to be uncommunicative and resentful of Mina’s presence.

Mina attempted to reconnect with her old friends but apart from Kira, struggled as most had married and settled down into family life, living very different lives to hers.

Although Mina desperately wanted to be back in London at her job and with Jack, she fell back into the lifestyle she had left ten years ago, going out, getting drunk and making stupid choices about sex with people who she didn’t really want or like.

Her friendship with Kira seemed to be the truest relationship Mina had. Kira’s family and Mina’s were neighbours and they had supported Mina and her mother Elaine after Mina’s father death when Mina was just a teenager. Valerie, Kira’s mother, had continued to look after Elaine after Mina moved to London.

The second half of Kokomo told Elaine’s story and explained the closeness of the relationship between the two families. Elaine’s and Mina’s characters were unexpectedly similar in that their longings shaped their lives.

I found much of Mina and Elaine’s personal behaviour to be incomprehensible and somewhat unlikely, but appreciated the contemporary issues the story raised. These ranged from mental health issues to sexism in the workplace and dealing with toxic relationships, as well as portraying friendships, family relationships, in particular children learning that there is more to their parents than their relationships with their children.

In a warning to my fellow prudes, the first chapter nearly put me off reading the book completely since I had far less interest in the physical description of Jack’s penis than what Mina apparently had. If this level of detail isn’t to your taste either, my suggestion is to read the back cover then skip straight to Chapter Two.

I enjoyed the contemporary Melbourne setting and recognised many of the places Mina visited.

My purchase of Kokomo by Victoria Hannan continues to satisfy my New Year’s resolution for 2021 which is to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of this year (March).

Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills

I knew that I would be in for a fun read when I picked up Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills.

I know Hills best as the host of Spicks and Specks, an Australian music-themed television quiz show that ended some years ago. Spicks and Specks was on television for seven years and was a must-watch at the time, always funny and informative. The guest list was a ‘who’s who’ of music and comedy at the time and He Who Eats All of Our leftovers, Miss S and I still watch and enjoy the repeats.

Hills is also a very funny and successful comedian. Best Foot Forward tells the story of his family life, growing up in Sydney and enjoying The Two Ronnies, Peter Sellers and Mel Brooks, as well as other comedians from that generation. My first laugh came on the first page when Hills described the family car’s colour as ‘beige’ while his father swore it was ‘Sahara Tan’. This tickled me because our family has a car which I call ‘gold’ although the official name of the colour is ‘Koala Beige’. I also enjoyed reading about the Hills’ family trips to visit his grandparents in Tuross Head on the South Coast of NSW after spending time living nearby at around the same time Hills talked of being there.

While he was at university Hills realised he wanted to be a comedian and started doing stand-up comedy, honing his skills and landing a job hosting a radio program in Adelaide, which he eventually left after making the decision to give stand-up comedy a proper shot.

Hills spoke honestly about ‘dying’ on stage and playing to very small crowds, what he learned from each gig, and the work and constant crafting that went into making him a better performer as time went on. When Spicks and Specks came along Hills took the opportunity to host the show and when it ended, he went on the host The Last Leg, a comedy sports show which originally followed the Paralympics in 2012. Hill says he got so caught up in the thrill and emotion of the competitions that he seriously considered taking up wheelchair basketball (he has a prosthetic leg) but was put off by the idea of needing to learn to use a wheelchair. I believe The Last Leg is still on television in the UK but has morphed into a talk show.

The last time I saw Hills on Australian television was during a cross to him while he was enjoying an unexpected day at an Australian beach as a result of his plane to the UK being delayed. He joked then that no one at the beach seemed fazed by him hopping out of the water because he was missing a leg! This reminded me of a story about Miss S when she was little. We had met a friend of a friend who was on crutches after having his leg amputated and Miss S wanted to know if a shark had got him!

Being a comedian, the book is filled with stories of his encounters, gigs and friendships with other comedians from Australia and the rest of the world which makes the book read like a ‘who’s who of comedy.’ I have seen some of these comedians perform and enjoyed these stories very much. Hills also described his first and subsequent encounters with his own idol, Billy Connolly, whose generosity of spirit shone through Hill’s storytelling.

Hills also has a similar kindness and positivity about him and while I haven’t watched The Last Leg I imagine the show brings joy to viewers.

White Fang by Jack London

I added White Fang by Jack London to my list of Classics Club books without any idea of what the story would be about. If I’d had to guess, I would have said it was a coming of age story about a boy and his dog, which turned out to be so far from the actual plot as to be laughable.

White Fang is the story of a ferocious wild wolfdog (half wolf, half dog) living in the Yukon Territory of Canada. The story began with two men returning a coffined corpse to civilisation using dog sleds, who are being tracked by a pack of starving wolves. Each night the dogs were being picked off one by one by the wolves, until the terrified men were themselves in mortal danger.

The story then moved to follow Kiche, a female dog who had been running with the wolves and was responsible for luring the sled dogs to their deaths. After the wolf pack’s famine was broken when they killed a moose, the pack broke apart and Kiche ran with two male wolves until the older wolf, One-Eye, killed his younger rival. In due course Kiche had a litter of wolfdog pups, of which White Fang was the only survivor. As a puppy White Fang explored his world, made his first kill for food and was learning how to protect himself from danger when he and Kiche stumbled into a camp of Native Americans.

Grey Beaver recognised Kiche as having formerly belonged to his dead brother and claimed her and White Fang for his own. White Fang wanted to return to the wild but Kiche settled in to camp life and eventually the two were separated.

White Fang’s life in the camp was hard as he was tormented by the other dogs and treated brutally by Grey Beaver, so he grew up to be a savage, angry animal who was used by his master as a fighting dog. Grey Beaver eventually sold White Fang to an even worse master, ‘Beauty’ Smith, who pitted White Fang in fights against other dogs, wolves and even a lynx.

White Fang was on the brink of losing his life in a fight against a bulldog when a young man happened across the dog fight and saved White Fang from death, calling out Beauty Smith and the crowd for their beastly behaviour. White Fang then became Weedon Scott’s dog, learning to trust and love him. Eventually White Fang left the Yukon to live in Weedon Scott’s family home in California where he learned to live peacefully with other dogs, animals and people.

Up until the young man happened across the dog fight, there was little morality in the story. White Fang’s world was harsh and only the strongest and most brutal animals survived. Animals who weren’t eating other animals were being eaten themselves. The author made it clear that the wolves and wolfdogs had no sense of right or wrong, and that particularly in the wild, their only purpose was to eat and survive.

White Fang recognised humans in the story as ‘Gods’ but even then he noted that the Gods’ powers varied, sometimes as a result of their race. He also recognised that there were ‘Laws’, but only because the Gods would hurt him if he didn’t obey these Laws.

As already mentioned, when I started to read White Fang I had expected a very different book and when I realised this was the animal’s own story, I expected White Fang to think and speak and moralise like a human would, but other than feeling certain emotions which were generally angry and unhappy, White Fang retained a wildness throughout his reasoning that was fascinating.

I was also surprised that although I found much of the human and animal behaviour to be abhorrent, from the cruelty shown to White Fang by Grey Beaver and the other dogs to the graphic descriptions of the dog fights, I never felt sickened or as if the events were being sensationalised for the reader’s titillation, instead I felt engaged by the story and enjoyed this unusual look at a world and environment which I know nothing about.

I did have major reservations about the plotline of Weedon Scott bringing a vicious wolfdog who often bit people and killed other animals into his home, and especially of him trusting White Fang with his own small children. I’ve been bitten by dogs twice, once in a public space by a stranger’s pit bull terrier, which are a banned dog breed in Australia and another time in a residential street by a part dog, part dingo which had escaped it’s owner’s yard. On both occasions I hadn’t even been aware of the dog’s presence until after I was bitten. To be brutally honest, if I had owned White Fang, I would put the animal down rather than have risk my child’s safety.

I struggled to find a cover picture for this book that suited the ferociousness of White Fang as most of the covers showed wolfdogs that looked as if they would be happy to be hugged when White Fang’s temperament was the exact opposite.

White Fang was book twenty six in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2023. The Call of the Wild is on my list too and I will probably read this next.

What to Read and Why by Francine Prose

I hoped for recommendations for ‘good’ books from What to Read and Why by Francine Prose but I gained much more than that.

The essays in this collection hone in on what Prose believes makes certain authors, artists or works to be great. In one section, she focused on what makes particular sentences great. Usually, this is clarity.

While I enjoyed the entire book, I found the chapters where I knew the book being discussed to be more interesting and inspiring than those I didn’t know. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein was a terrific example. The essay started with an explanation of why Frankenstein was written and a description of Shelley’s fascinating childhood and life, then discussed the story’s genre, showed how the author avoided ‘plot holes’ by telling the reader that she wasn’t going to tell them certain things for their own safety, and ended by pointing out that the monster was used as a device to examine horrific human behaviour. I’m busting to reread Frankenstein with my new-found insight.

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations was another chapter that I particularly appreciated because I had recently read this book for myself. Prose marveled at how prolific Dickens’ was, at his skill in holding in connecting every single scene in the book with the entire story and drew attention to the novel teaching readers about the difficulty of improving themselves because of personal attachments to their own faults. I was delighted by Prose’s description of Great Expectations as “fun, it’s got an engaging plot, it’s smart and beautifully written.”

The Jane Austen chapter was preaching to the converted. George Eliot, Middlemarch would also have convinced me to add this book to my next Classic Club list had the book not already been on it, along with the Kafka essay.

I was surprised to find two essays discussing the works of photographers, Helen Levitt’s Crosstown and Diane Arbus’ Revelations, but was intrigued by both and searched out works by both artists.

Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle is an intriguing look at six (!) autobiographical novels written by a Norwegian writer. I can’t decide whether to read these or not. While these books sound fascinating, I get the feeling that reading them might be too voyeuristic, like reading someone’s diary.

I’m also now on the lookout for anything by Mavis Gallant and Patrick Hamilton, Roberto Bolano’s 2666 and Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach, but despite explaining what makes Lolita a great novel, Prose couldn’t convince me to re-read this book even if it came with a life-time supply of chocolate.

A chapter titled On Clarity seemed to be speaking directly to me. All I can say is that I try.

I can’t finish this review without commenting on the author’s surname, Prose. What else could this author have been but a writer? There was an impressively long list of non-fiction and fiction books written by Prose on an inside front page and perhaps not surprisingly, I have added her name to my list of authors to seek out.

When the Floods Came by Clare Morrall

I’ve read several books by Clare Morrall with clever and interesting plots, so was pleased to find a copy of When the Floods Came.

The story is set in Birmingham in England sometime in the near future, however the future has not turned out to be as we would hope. Climate change has caused the weather to swing violently with England experiencing torrential rain and devastating floods. To further complicate life, twenty years before the story began a virus called Hoffman’s wiped out most of the population and left most survivors infertile.

The main character is twenty-two year old Roza Polanski, who with her family, lived on their own in a housing tower complex which previously housed thousands of people. The Polanski family consisted of Roza’ mother and father, her brother Boris, sister Delphine and adopted little sister Lucia, who was found alone after her parents seemingly died in a flood several years before the story began. The Polanski family rarely met anyone else in person, but Roza and Boris worked online for the Chinese (it wasn’t clear what their work actually was) and all of the older children had strong online social connections. When the story began, Roza was preparing to meet Hector, a man from Brighton whom she had met online and planned to marry. Most of England’s population lived in Brighton as it was the only place in England that had been made flood-proof.

I was fascinated to read how Roza’s family used items foraged from other apartments for their own needs, had chickens and a goat living on the tower’s roof and harvested vegetables from nearby farms which were run by machines. Several times a year they received food and other items from drone drops from the Americans. Roza’s father was particularly handy and spent much of his time creating art and repairing the machinery which maintained their lives throughout the cycles of intense heat, cold, rain and floods.

During a family game where the Polanski’s raced through the entire housing tower they were shocked to find a young man living in an apartment. Although Aashay hadn’t been there long the Polanski family felt frightened and angry because they hadn’t been aware of his presence, and they were horrified to learn he had been watching them and knew a lot about them. Despite Aashay’s charm, Roza and her family were suspicious of his intentions towards them. Most people who had survived Hoffman’s lived in Brighton under strict government rules, but it was clear that Aashay lived outside of the rules. While the Polanski’s were also living outside of Brighton it was because the government were allowing them this freedom, with the understanding that when the children turned twenty-five they would move to Brighton where they would marry and have children to ensure the continuation of the human race.

Roza’s family had been quarantined and forbidden from visiting nearby Birmingham or anywhere else since Hoffman’s had struck twenty years previously, but despite these places having been being abandoned and destroyed they still weren’t allowed to visit them, however soon after Aashay’s arrival Roza surreptitiously travelled to Birmingham to visit the Museum and Art Gallery where she discovered Sir Jacob Epstein’s statue of Lucifer in the water damaged building.

At this point, I stopped reading and went online to see Lucifer and the round, domed gallery for myself. By this point the story was so real to me that I felt relieved to see that the gallery and art works were undamaged.

Aashay told the Polanski’s about an upcoming fair in a town nearby they were amazed to learn that so many other people lived outside Brighton, and they decided to attend. On arrival they felt overwhelmed by the vast crowd of approximately 100 people and found the noise they made to be deafening. The children received such an inordinate amount of attention that the family were terrified someone would kidnap Lucia to fulfil a yearning for a child of their own.

When the Floods Came had a Garden of Eden-type of plot, in that the story began with an innocent family living in paradise before the arrival of the serpent and an ending featuring the changes which came with knowledge. I enjoyed the story enormously but felt let down by the ending which felt unresolved. I was also left wondering what was happening in the rest of the world. I had the same problem with The Roundabout Man in that I loved the idea and the plot but ultimately wanted more from the story and the ending.

Out of Time by Steve Hawke

Out of Time by Australia author Steve Hawke was a thought-provoking, moving account of a man in his late middle-age who realised he was suffering early onset dementia and as a result, planned how he would continue to live and how he would die.

Joe was an architect, married to Anne, a high school teacher who lived in Perth. Joe and Anne felt as if they were living the best part of their lives. They had successful careers, their daughter Claire was married and beginning her own family (although they didn’t like her husband much) and they were planning dream trips for their retirement which included fishing for Joe and bird watching for Anne, when a strange loss of memory frightened Joe.

He had hurriedly parked his car in the city before attending an important work meeting but after the meeting couldn’t remember where he had left his car. Joe reported the loss to the police and his car eventually turned up after having been towed as it had been left on a clearway, but soon after this event he realised he had been suffering other memory losses.

Joe’s worries were made worse by having recently watched his Uncle George’s health and quality of life deteriorate as a result of dementia, so he was certain of his own condition long before he was actually diagnosed. He hid his worries from Anne for a long time but when he did tell her, he also provided his own solution, which was to suicide before his own quality of life worsened to the point where his and Anne’s life were impacted.

Watching Joe and Anne, their daughter and friends come to terms with his condition and his solution was difficult, but the story was also heart-warming and well told. Joe and Anne were well educated, affluent, likeable and completely relatable. The character’s voices were very Australian and they swore a lot, which might put off some readers, but in the situation they found themselves in I felt that their swearing was understandable.

I expect that readers who know Western Australia and Perth will particularly enjoy the setting, but think this book would be a very hard read for anyone who had experienced a loved one going through a similar situation.

I haven’t heard of Steve Hawke before and have not read much from Fremantle Press, but was impressed by the quality of the writing and the story.

Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon

I pounced on Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon from the British Library Crime Classics series when I came across this book in the large print section of my local library.

As always for a book from this series, the cover art is beautiful. In my opinion the team who create these covers always get them exactly right. Golden Age crime novels are well suited to art-deco artwork and I can imagine that some people probably collect these books for their covers.

The story was introduced by Martin Edwards who teases the reader with a brief description of the plot before providing an interesting biography of the author, Joseph Jefferson Farjeon, which included the details that Farjeon’s greatest worry was that he wouldn’t be able to provide for his family financially. This fear spurred Farjeon to write prolifically.

Seven Dead started off with one of the most intriguing first chapters I’ve ever read. The first line, ‘This is not Ted Lyte’s story’ introduced a petty criminal who broke into Haven House on the coast of England with the intention of stealing silverware only to find seven dead people in a locked room.

When Lyte ran out of the house in terror, dropping spoons as he went, he was chased by a passer-by until he ran smack-bang into a policeman who, as expected, asked “What’s all this?” The passer-by was Thomas Hazeldean, a yachtsman and reporter who had moored his yacht in a creek near Haven House. Hazeldean accompanied Detective Inspector Kendall back to Haven House to discover what had frightened the thief. At Haven House, they found the seven dead bodies but could not discover who had killed the victims or why they had been killed.

Hazeldean was intrigued by both the mystery and by a portrait in the house of a young girl which had been pierced by a bullet that had seemingly come from the room with the dead bodies and on learning that the girl in the portrait was Dora Fenner, the neice of the owner of Haven House, Hazeldean set off in his yacht Spray across the channel to France to find and protect her, while Kendall carried on in England.

In France, all was not as it seemed. Hazeldean found Dora and realised she was being guarded by the mysterious occupants of the household where she and her uncle, John Fenner, were staying. Not only that, Fenner was acting strangely.

Unfortunately at this point, I lost some enthusiasm for the story. To begin with, the characters sometimes spoke French and since I couldn’t even guess at what they were saying I lost the gist of what was happening. The writing itself was very good, clear and descriptive enough for me to be able to imagine the characters, the place and to get a feel for the atmosphere, but the plot’s twists and turns once Hazeldean went to France became overly complicated and far-fetched. Not only that, I also found the idea of Hazeldean falling in love with Dora’s portrait from childhood to be creepy. When he met her in real life and she turned out to be someone who fainted constantly from nerves, I couldn’t understand what he saw in her. I guess some people just want to be the ‘protector’ in a relationship.

I had been reading the story with the intention of solving the case, but there was no way I could have done this and to be fair, Seven Dead wasn’t that kind of story. Instead, the murderer’s identity and motive became clear as the story continued. Despite my criticism, I would definitely read another book by this author based on the quality of his writing and that fantastic first chapter.

The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

I was intrigued by the idea of the main character in Jodi Picoult’s The Book of Two Ways having the opportunity to live two versions of her life in parallel.

In the beginning of both versions of her life, Dawn was a death doula and married to Brian, a quantum physicist. Together they had a daughter, Meret. As a death doula Dawn took on clients who were dying, assisting them and their families to tidy up their loose ends before their death. The loose ends were often practical, such as arranging a funeral or helping them to finish a task they had their heart set on, but other times they were to fulfill a more emotional need, such as finding someone the dying person had lost contact with or helping them to make peace with their impending death. Before her marriage, Dawn was a graduate student Egyptologist.

For Dawn, a man called Wyatt was the one who got away in both versions of her life. She had left him fifteen years before the story began, when he was on the brink of a major archaeological discovery in Egypt.

In one of the storylines Dawn survived a plane crash and when her life flashed before her eyes she saw Wyatt. She had recently lost trust in Brian and their marriage and when the airline offered her a plane ticket to anywhere in the world she impulsively decided on Egypt and travelled to the archaeological burial site where she had left Wyatt fifteen years previously. Dawn’s intention was to reconnect with Wyatt and complete her degree.

Dawn’s theory was that the artwork which was on, in and around the ancient coffins in the burial sites she was working on were a guidebook for the ancient Egyptians’ afterlives, or The Book of Two Ways. The descriptions of the tombs, their art and artifacts, the coffins and even the mummies themselves featured heavily in this story.

In Dawn’s parallel life she stayed with Brian and instead of her travelling to Egypt to complete her work, the story followed her life with her family in Boston and her work as a death doula, which I found to be more interesting than her Egyptian parallel life. Dawn’s backstory with Wyatt and her reasons for leaving him were addressed differently in this version of her life to the ‘Egypt’ version.

The Book of Two Ways reminded me a little of the movie Sliding Doors, where after an accident Gwyneth Paltrow’s character lived her life in parallel with both stories meeting towards the end.

I felt the story was bogged down by too many stories about Egyptian mythology. At first I found them fascinating but there were so many that I became overwhelmed and eventually lost interest, skimming past them to get back to the actual story, which was what was going on with Dawn. Funnily enough, Dawn’s character glazed over whenever her husband started talking about quantum physics!

I generally enjoy Jodi Picoult’s stories so am hoping for one I like better next time.

The Dressmaker’s Secret by Rosalie Ham

I enjoyed reading The Dressmaker by Australian author Rosalie Ham, and adored the film starring Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Hugo Weaving and Liam Hemsworth, so was excited to learn that The Dressmaker’s Secret continued Tilly Dunnage’s story.

For women in Melbourne in 1953, wearing a beautiful dress to a ball to celebrate the queen’s coronation was the only thing that mattered. Tilly Dunnage had left Dungatar for Melbourne where she was working as a dressmaker for a would-be fashion house in the Paris-end of Collins Street.

I’m not giving anything away by saying that Tilly’s secret was that she had a baby who she named Joe after the death of Teddy (played by Liam Hemsworth in the movie). As Tilly was a single mother Joe had been taken to a children’s home where Tilly visited him every Sunday. Sergeant Farrat, who had also left Dungatar for Melbourne, gallantly offered to marry Tilly in a marriage of convenience so she could bring Joe home but on their wedding day, he fell in love with another woman. Tilly encouraged Sergeant Farrat and Julie’s romance and in an unusual twist, he spent his wedding night with Julie.

As Sergeant Farrat and Julie’s romance blossomed, Tilly continued to battle the Child Welfare Officer, her small-minded employer and most of the residents of Dungatar who hated her because she was no longer around to make them dresses (and because that she had burnt the town down when she left).

The story jumped around between Tilly, Sergeant Farrat and Julie, plus other new characters and a cast of thousands from Dungatar. Although I remembered some of the Dungatar characters from The Dressmaker, I couldn’t recall all of them and felt confused about where some of them fitted into the story.

The Dressmaker’s Secret was completely over the top but did not have as strong a sense of fun and black humour as The Dressmaker. I would have preferred the sequel to have left the characters from Dungatar behind and followed Tilly in her fight for Joe and her career, plus better conditions for her fellow workers at Salon Mystique.

I think The Dressmaker’s Secret will only appeal (and possibly make sense) to reader who have read The Dressmaker.

If this book is also made into a film, I’ll definitely see it. I can’t wait to see the dresses!

My purchase of The Dressmaker’s Secret by Rosalie Ham continues to satisfy my New Year’s resolution for 2021 which is to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of this year (February).

Tag Cloud