The Dressmaker – Rosalie Ham

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Tilly Dunnage has come home to care for her mad old mother. She left the small Victorian town of Dungatar years before, and became an accomplished couturier in Paris. Now she earns her living making exquisite frocks for the people who drove her away when she was ten. Through the long Dungatar nights, she sits at her sewing machine, planning revenge.

In the 1950s, Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage returns to her home town to care for her mother. She was run out of town after an incident in her childhood, and while she is back home she plans revenge on those who scorn her. While away she trained as a dressmaker in Paris.

The writing style of this novel left me confused. There were the occasional paragraphs that contained nearly every character, and what they were doing at that moment. There are so many characters in this book, it’s really hard to keep track of who’s who. For me, a book with too many characters is not enjoyable.

I also found some of the language used off-putting, particularly when describing male body parts. For example:
“She lifted the sheet and looked down at Evan’s squishy, orange, wet conger lolling on his thigh.”
I had to briefly stop reading – I haven’t come across it written like that before, and I found it quit disgusting!

Quite often, in novels that I’ve read before, when a person returns to a town they’ve been run out of, it’s revealed in a large way at the end of the novel, and it seems to tie everything up. In this novel, it seems just thrown in there, to add to the plot. And the ending was awful. Once I’d finished it, I just sat and shook my head for a moment.

I found myself wanting to stop reading after 50 or so pages, but stuck with it to see if it gets more interesting or funny. Unfortunately, I found the whole book to be a chore to read, and I couldn’t wait to be done with it so I could move on to another book. I’m really disappointed, as I expected it to be better than it was.

 

Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

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In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men.

Agnes is sent to wait out the time leading to her execution on the farm of District Officer Jon Jonsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderess in their midst, the family avoids speaking with Agnes. Only Toti, the young assistant reverend appointed as Agnes’ spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her, as he attempts to salvage her soul. As the summer months fall away to winter and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’ ill-fated tale of longing and betrayal begins to emerge. And as the days to her execution draw closer, the question burns: did she or didn’t she?

This book was recommended to me by a librarian. When I first started reading it, I felt way out of my comfort zone. I usually read books set in modern times, and I tend to gravitate more towards books that have a more predictable story line and ending. This book took me in a completely new direction. Hannah’s way with words really allowed me to connect with the characters, and lead me into the world within the book.

Agnes Magnusdottir is sentenced to execution for playing a role in the brutal murder of two men. She is sent to a farm to await execution. While at this farm, we learn about Agnes’ life, but we also get to know a but about the family she lives with, as well as a priest who visits her. Although there are several characters, the book focuses mostly on Agnes. Each character plays their role, and the way Hannah has written each character’s narrative allows us to gauge the importance of them in the book.

The book’s transition between first-person (Agnes) and third-person perspectives is fantastic. I never felt confused as to which character we were following, as it is always clear – the perspective doesn’t shift within paragraphs. We also get to know each character a little bit, and that really drew me into the story.

Hannah’s style of writing really drew me in. I felt like I was right there, amongst the characters, and experiencing their lives. I could feel the snow on my feet, the smoke in my lungs, the taste of blood on my tongue. It’s very rare that a book can lead to activating my senses. Even as I write this, I can still taste the metallic taste of blood as I think about the book.

This book is not usually a book I would choose myself to read – I tend to stick to my comfort zone. However, I am really glad that I read this novel. It is one of the books that will stay with me for a long time.