The Dressmaker by Posie Graeme-Evans

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Title: The Dressmaker
Author: Posie Graeme-Evans
Genre: Historical fiction, romance, chick lit
Publisher: Atria Paperback, 2010
Source: Borrowed from my mom, who borrowed it from my aunt

The Dressmaker
by Posie Graeme-Evans tells the tale of Ellen, the daughter of a poor but loving pastor. Her life forever changes when her father unexpectedly dies, and Ellen and her mother, Connie, must forge their way ahead without money or status. Ellen discovers a talent for drawing and dress design and even falls in love - but will someone take it all away?

Sound melodramatic? That's because it is. Ellen's life is full of tragedy, and every time you think something bad is going to happen - it does! However, you won't be fully surprised by it, because every time something bad is about to happen, the author lets you know with a few heavy, portentous words: "Ellen could not know that these would be her father's last loving gift." People die left and right, usually at the most inconvenient time and in the most dramatic way. Ellen's life is a struggle, and she barely keeps her head above water for most of the book. However, despite the drama and the blatant foreshadowing, I did enjoy reading her story. It was inspiring that she managed to keep herself and her daughter alive with her dressmaking business. And I was constantly wondering what would happen next - would she lose everything? Would she be even more successful? There were several fake moments of tension in the story when someone would knock at the door of the shop and Ellen's best friend, Polly, would rush in "with a white face" - but often those moments would be happy surprises instead of (yet another) tragedy.

I didn't feel any great connection with the characters. Ellen was a bit distant - her life was so sorrowful that she was serious all the time. Many of the other characters were unlikeable because they were the cause of Ellen's tragedies, such as the selfish dandy Raoul de Valentin, who lied to and took advantage of Ellen only to blackmail her years later. The only character I really loved was Polly, Ellen's sassy maid growing up who later becomes her best friend and business partner. Despite Polly's attitude and at times rebellious nature, she has a heart of gold and does everything she can to protect Ellen and help her with her dressmaking business. I would have loved to read a story just about Polly!

The writing was a little irksome at times for me, just because it was so dramatic. If it were being read aloud, I think it would be in breathy tones, stammering because of fear or breathlessness from telling the horrors so quickly. (That last sentence needs to be in a sarcastic tone when you read it in your mind). "Connie left the room without one backward glance. Ellen heard her mother's footfall as she climbed the stair to their room - it was slow and heavy and the old treads groaned. A noise so familiar and yet, today, so poignant." My mental fragment alarms were a little upset by that sentence. However, at the same time, many of the descriptions were vivid and well phrased. I loved reading about the dresses, and wished that somehow I could have pictures of all of them. Here is one lovely description -
She did not like heavy fabrics, least of all in summer, but on any scale this gown was daringly light. Pale Indian muslin was printed with a repeating pattern of black roses and soft gray leaves. It caught up in billows over an underskirt of chalk white silk, and the black velvet bodice was quite severe, though it dropped prettily off her shoulders. Tonight she would wear short black gloves, and her only jewelry would be the cameo that Oriana had given her.
Overall, this book was fun and frivolous - a soap opera of a novel, but an entertaining one. If you are a fan of historical fiction and light romance, this book will probably appeal to you. However, if you are looking for something serious with deeper themes, you'll find yourself wanting more. This book may especially appeal to women who are interested in fashion, as there are several gorgeous descriptions of gowns in the book.

Accessibility: Easy read.
Plot: 3
Characters: 2.5
Writing: 2.5
Personal response: 3
Overall: 2.75


  1. Sometimes you just need a light, entertaining read. God, I am craving that now. Sounds like it definitely had the drama- I think soap opera as a description is perfect. Ha. I think you might like the novel I just finished, Madame Tussaud, I posted a review today, if you're not familiar with it (which I'm sure you are). I think you'd really like it!

  2. Hrm...I thought I wanted to read this one, but after your review, I'm not so sure! I like my historical fiction reads to be deep.

  3. @Beth - I have a stack of Michelle Moran books from my sis-in-law and now I really want to read Madame Tussaud (especially because its set in France!) I'm going to borrow it from Borders soon, I think.

    @Swapna - Yes, me too! This one was okay but I just didn't connect with it.


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