Book Review #88 – The Corset

My stitches had already taken the lives of two people. Now they would be unleashed upon the ladies of Oakgate – Laura Purcell.

After spending so long on my last bout of reading, finishing The Corset in three days flat was a welcome change. It gripped me in a way that had me thinking about it at almost every moment of every day, similar to the way Dorothea thought about Ruth and the tales she spun about her life.

The Corset has been on my reading wish list for over a year. I bought the book in May and carted it around Northern Ireland, but never actually picked it up to read until two weeks ago. I wanted to read something that I knew I’d consume quickly, and I’d read reviews about how this chilling tale was unputdownable – it was a natural choice.

The story is told from two points of view that couldn’t be more different to one another. The first is Dorothea, a middle-class lady who is approaching the age of becoming an embarrassment to her father at the age of twenty-five; she must be wed and wed soon. Her opposite is Ruth, a sixteen-year-old poor girl who has been imprisoned for murder; she tells Dorothea of the people she’s killed due to her magical stitching of clothes for the middle-class ladies of Oakgate.

I found myself just wanting to read Ruth’s tale all the way through. Her life goes from dreary to destitute in a manner of pages which is heart-breaking and cruel. The life she lives under the watchful eye of Mrs Metyard, who has a sick secret of her own, is disgusting and horrific. It is almost unbelievable, especially as Kate Metyard, the daughter, is almost as bad… until the later scenes, making her character untrusting and a little unconvincing, as if her change of heart had just been written as an afterthought, rather than a meticulous development of character and plot.

Nevertheless, Ruth as a character herself struck me as someone to root for. She has her rougher qualities, mainly being the ruthless thoughts that cascade through her head about the people who have wronged her. Other than that, she is a down-to-earth child who knows her place and who would help anyone in need. She has a strength that compels her to stand up for those around her who are weaker, and she is brutally honest – if a little mad – even when she is about to face her death.

Dorothea, on the other hand, is a character who I’m still unsure of. She is strong-willed, determined and ahead of her time. She is also fanciful, selfish and fickle. Her charity work is a great aspect of her character, but sometimes I felt that it was more to prove a point or show off than to take care of the incarcerated women. Her education served her well, as does her desire to want to do something other than get married and inherit her mother’s money. She wants to prove a point, to make a name for herself and, despite her negative qualities, I really want her to succeed too.

As for the final paragraphs of the book, I had to read them twice to grasp the words. It leaves questions, which I am sure was Laura Purcell’s intentions, and I didn’t understand the truth of what she wanted to achieve. There are too many plot holes, a particular one being (spoiler) did her father truly want to kill her? Is that why he followed her to the door of Billy’s? Is that why he came to his end, despite Ruth sewing her thoughts into the handkerchief for Billy himself? I’m glad of what happened, and the shock factor was certainly there but, due to the lack of explanation and the unknown, the ending felt a little deflated.

Despite my queries about the protagonists and my questions throughout Dorothea’s storyline, the language and the format of every word had me racing to the final pages. I wish for a different ending, but somehow, the story may not have made such a statement if it weren’t for the brutal horrors, twisted tales and torture of innocent lives.

A book that you need to read if you love intrigue, the nineteenth century and a contrast in characters who somehow find similarities despite their backgrounds, uniting over something that can’t be explained whether that is a feeling, a dream or the acknowledgment of seeing something in the other that they see in themselves.

Have you read The Corset? What are your thoughts?

Love, Faye xo

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