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The Dress Lodger

3.56 of 5 stars 3.56  ·  rating details  ·  5,560 ratings  ·  565 reviews
In a novel set in the filth and depravity of London's mean streets during the Industrial Revolution, a prostitute borrows a blue dress to attract a higher class of client and is shadowed through the streets by an evil old woman hired by the dress' owner to keep an eye on her.
Hardcover, 291 pages
Published April 24th 2001 by Atlantic Monthly Press (first published 1998)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Bev
Once upon a time, (I don't remember what prompted me to do so...a review I read somewhere, a synopsis of the book, perhaps both of these or neither) I put The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman on my TBR wish list. And there it sat until I came across a nice, gently used copy at my local library's used book shop. I promptly brought it home and put it on the physical TBR pile(s) gracing my back bedroom. Then, this week I found myself at loose ends. I've finished all my formal book challenges for 2010. ...more
Katie
Oct 21, 2007 Katie rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: doctors and medical students
I read the first half of this book in a tremendous rush, totally engrossed by the story and both horrified and fascinated by Holman's depiction of the cholera epidemic of 1831. I'm not sure exactly what happened in the second half of the book, but somehow the spell was broken. Holman (inconsistently) employs a fair amount of narrative trickery that didn't seem to add much to the book, and the lack of subtlety became frustrating after a while. I've recently read several books set in the drawing r ...more
Anika Ferguson
So far I love the unique voice this book is told in. VERY original narration! What fun!

I finished this book today. I loved it. It does remind me of Dickens and his dark view of society. The cholera epidemic makes for a bit of a downer! I wish I could study this book with a class. I know there are a ton of metaphors and great comparisons within the story that would be fun to delve deeper into with a group. If it weren't for the prostitution story line I would think it would be great for classroo
...more
Terence
A very strong 3.5+ stars, which I’m rounding up to 4 because I enjoyed it more than other recent books I’ve given 3 stars to (damnit GR, give us stars or more of them to play with!).

The Dress Lodger takes place in 1831 in Sunderland, an industrializing seaport on the northeast coast of England, as cholera gains its first foothold in the kingdom. It’s a decidedly grim novel, uncompromising in showing the desperate and dehumanizing poverty of the city’s denizens, and the callow and callous indiff
...more
David Abrams
Turn the pages of The Dress Lodger and you’re turning the dial on a time machine. Destination: England, 1831.

Sheri Holman’s novel is one of those rare pieces of historical fiction which thrust you so completely into another time, another place, that the modern world—with all its bright, sparkly conveniences—melts away. Welcome to the Industrial Revolution, dear reader. You’ll feel the mud, you’ll smell the rotting wharf life, you’ll taste the bitter cholera on your tongue. You’ll also want to sh
...more
Karo
I've recently embarked on a historical novel kick -- a satisfying read with the added bonus of learning a little chunk of history, what could be better? I came across Sheri Holman's novel on the "paperback favorites" table when I was browsing in a local bookstore. It looked intriguing, so I thought that I'd give it a try. The book is about a 19th century cholera epidemic in an English town, and features Gustine, a poor girl with a very ill child who works as a potter's assistant by day and a pro ...more
Suzanne





There are many pleasant fictions of the law in constant operation, but there is not one so pleasant or practically humorous as that which supposes every man to be of equal value in its impartial eye, and the benefits of all laws to be equally attainable by all men, without the smallest reference to the furniture of their pockets.

—Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby


I can't decide if this is a. 3 or 4 star novel. The Dress Lodger was very effective in drawing the reader into the 19th century. But i
...more
Janet
This summer I'm working through books handed to me throughout the year by those I love with their breathless assurances that this is "the best book EVER." My friends are many wonderful things but hardcore readers they are not. So when they hand me a book I'm relatively certain it is one of maybe two they've read in the past year. Books selected in the airport on the obligatory trip home to visit the family.

As a desperation read, The Dress Lodger fares better than most. Set in Sunderland, Englan
...more
Celeste McLean-Cote
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Philippa
Might have been OK with a better editor. The writing style is pretty pretentious, but the bigger issue is the weird continuity problems - there are a whole lot of scenes where the author seemed to forget whom exactly the narrator was supposed to be addressing, who the narrator *was*, or what the characters were doing from one sentence to the next (e.g., a woman barrelling into a group of men hard enough to scatter them, though she's also supposed to be holding an extremely delicate, sickly infan ...more
Copperfield Review
For lovers of historical thrillers, The Dress Lodger is the novel for you. Bold, sassy, at times dark, sinister, and disturbing, it is the story of a young dress lodger–a prostitute who solicits eager men while wearing a rented fancy gown owned by her landlord, who is also her pimp. During the Cholera epidemic in 1831, young Gustine bravely endures the distresses that life has sent her way because she needs to support her sickly son. She befriends Dr. Henry Chiver, who has his own problems durin ...more
Lindsay
Absolutely brilliant. So utterly and absolutely brilliant. Historical fiction like this is so very, very hard to come by. One of the best modern books I've really enjoyed in a long time. I read this in two sittings, the first one of eight hours where I could not put it down. One of those books that I set down after finishing and had to catch my breath and let everything sink in. One of those books where all the threads tie together at the end and you just marvel at her narrative skill. Nothing i ...more
Jamie
The best part of this strange little book is the writing. I see that some readers are annoyed by the second-person present point of view and the "dear reader" business, but I was charmed by the quirky narration. The prose is rich and atmospheric; the story is a gripping melodrama, certainly over-the-top in places, but crammed with fascinating historical details which will make you glad not to have been born poor 200 years ago.

The setting is northern England in 1831, just as the "cholera morbus"
...more
Amanda
A poised, accomplished, and frequently touching historical novel about a poor part-time prostitute and potters' drudge who crosses paths with a high-minded body-snatching doctor while she's trying to eke out a precarious living in the north of England during a cholera epidemic. Full of quasi-Dickensian lowlifes with strange physical deformities, and practically reeking with atmosphere. The author, who has read widely in Victorian literature, both fiction and nonfiction, has an authoritative gras ...more
Tippi
Aug 28, 2008 Tippi rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who don't like to read
I was drawn to this book by certain keywords in its description, such as "cholera" and "grave-robbing." Sadly, the potential of the material was never fully reached; it was just the backdrop fora poorly written piece of middle-school level tripe.

The narrative method is forced and overdone, too clearly a gimmick. "We walk down the street and see you, friend. Will you tell us about our main character? For in a story such as this, we must not trust ourselves, because blah blah blah." Yawn. Her reas
...more
Adelina
I thought it was just ok. I mean.... It was interesting to see how all of the characters interacted without anyone really knowing each other but other than that, boring. It did not have what I wanted from the book at all. I wanted late night hunting for corpses, running with the dirt still sticking to the coffins, excitement, chases, and just dead corpses. Instead I got Henry, a boring character that had no substance to him that was haunted by ghosts of his past, but nothing really good or inter ...more
Lynn
As a neo-Victorian novel, The Dress Lodger does a great job of immersing the reader in the world of a cholera-infected English town. Most of the characters are interesting and the dialog is engaging. That said, I found the narrative voice particularly annoying and oftentimes distracting. There were only one or two moments in the book where I was truly engaged and emotionally connected to the work. Had I not been required to finish this book for a class, I probably wouldn't have made it past the ...more
Sterlingcindysu
Wish I could say Shari Holman is a relation, but I'm a Hollmann. She'd be a good one to have in the family. I can imagine the gory talk around the Christmas table!

I'll give this a 4.5. Great, detailed research on everything from how the workers bathed to watching a rat fight. Even the cover is perfect, the blue dress and sky highlit against black and white characters. (Blue is also how the cholera victims die.) Holman does a great job in describing why the people (in 1831 England, in a port cit
...more
Truida
What a extraordinary book!
The reader is led through gory descriptions of dissections and grave robbery by an esteemed doctor who thought nothing of poor people. Cholera morbus is raging through England in 1831 and the writer doesn`t spare the queasy reader any of the horrid symptoms of the disease.
A poor 14 year old girl, the dress lodger, is fighting for survival working in a pottery factory carrying wet clay on her head. Covered in clay from head to foot at night she has to wash herself in the
...more
Isabella
I would probably also put this at 3.5 stars, but when forced to choose, I bumped it up instead of down. It was a really interesting book, if confusing in certain parts.
The Good: Gustine was a kick-ass heroine. She could have had a depressing, pitiable, weak position, but she didn't. She was a prostitute. She worked two jobs. She was dirt poor. Her baby was on the edge of death. And yet...and yet, she feels no shame, she needs no pity or charity, she unsqueamishly views death and pain and deals w
...more
Quiltgranny
This is a dark story of a prostitute and doctors set during the time of the cholera epidemic in the mid 1800's. The epigraph from Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary:Grave: A place where the dead are laid to await the coming of the medical student"sets the theme for this time period of the adversities of an early 19th-century industrial city.

The 15 year old protagonist, Gustine, is a potter's assistant by day, and prostitute by night. An interesting vehicle to tell the story is a startling blue
...more
Skyring
An interesting contrast to The Mammoth Cheese by Ms Holman. I also liked the interview conducted by Mr Liss at the end of the book, where Sheri talks about the background and the writing.

This is an odd book in almost every way. The characters are gruesome and diverse. Deformed, depraved, desperate. The setting is squalid. The plot is disturbing and confronting.

And the narrative style is ... different. The author makes some comments on this at the end, but for the first few pages at least it is a
...more
Jennifer W
This was probably a 2.5 star read for me. The history was fascinating, and each character is believable. I think I would have liked more in the history department. Burke and Hare, for example, are never really explained. They are more like bogey men who will come after you in the night. I could, and did, piece together what they did, but would it have been so hard to tell me? I think if this story had been more explicit with the history, I would have liked it a lot better. Though, it does give y ...more
Holly Weiss
The Dress Lodger is a daring, spine-tingling historical thriller set in England during the 1831 cholera scare. Prostitution, anatomic research, the horror of street life, descriptions of corpses, and the gulf between poor and rich are graphically told.

Expecting to love this book, I soon discovered that I was both revolted by the honest but gruesome description and absolutely engaged with the writing style. Personally, I found the content abhorrent, but measuring an author’s craft is equally imp
...more
Kristin
The Dress Lodger is the kind of historical fiction that makes the reader get down on her hands and knees and kiss 21st century ground! Especially if said reader is not a millionaire. This is a tale of the Victorian poor, more poignant and grim than even Dickens. Holman touches on the fact that even if one was lucky enough to have a job that just barely kept you from starving, the job itself would probably kill you from phosphorus poisoning, from mercury poisoning, from lead poisoning, from dange ...more
Suzi
Sheri Holman's The Dress Lodger tells a story of desperation, hope, and superstition. Gustine is a dress lodger -- a prostitute who rents an expensive dress from her landlord in order to claim a higher price. She is followed by The Eye, a one-eyed old woman, in order to prevent Gustine from running away with the dress. She also has an infant son with a rare heart defect in need of medical attention.

Henry Chiver is a doctor and anatomy professor in desperate need of donor cadavers for his studen
...more
Michelegg
This was a gritty, dark book. It takes place during the Spanish Cholera outbreak in England. I can still see in my mind the slimy vegetable leavings on the front porches, the polluted air, the poor families starving to death.

Then there's Gustine covered in pottery clay head to foot as she works in the factory and then dons the blue dress at night to earn money as a prostitute, all to feed her precious baby boy.

There's the Eye who follows her to make sure she doesn't steal the dress, and Dr. Chi
...more
Monica
I enjoyed how the author really drew the reader into the story. The first few pages really got my attention and I felt like I was right there on the streets of 19th century London. The author included the reader in the story as a character which is always a fun way to become involved in the story. It was interesting to read about this dark side of medical discovery and the extreme measures these doctors would take in order to study a real human body. After that, though, there was just a lot of g ...more
Chana

I’ve had a hard time deciding how to approach a journal entry for this book. It was disturbing and beautiful both. While reading it I kept thinking, ‘Dr. Henry Chivers is a horse’s ass’ but really he wasn’t. He was possibly mentally unbalanced and he was casually cruel in the way only people who think they are superior and are “doing good” in the world can be. The writing is immediate because of the entrancing imagery, but also allowed the reader some distance because of the historical perspecti
...more
Meredith Jaeger
I found it very difficult to start this book, because of the narrative voice. (Eventually the narrator is revealed at the end, but I would have preferred it to be up front, like Death in THE BOOK THIEF). Reading in second person, ex: "You notice it on most Saturday nights when the markets are set up along Low Street" threw me for such a loop, that I stopped reading this book a few pages in, and didn't pick it up again until weeks later. However, once I finally got used to the voice, I was engros ...more
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Sheri Holman graduated from The College of William and Mary in 1988, mastering in Theatre. From there, she became an assistant to a literary agent. In that time, she began to write her first novel, A Stolen Tongue. It was published in 1996. She then went on to write "The Dress Lodger," which was published in 1999. Sheri Holman also wrote "Sondok, Princess of the Moon and Stars," which was publishe ...more
More about Sheri Holman...
Sondok: Princess of the Moon and Stars, Korea, A.D. 595 Witches on the Road Tonight The Mammoth Cheese A Stolen Tongue Physical World

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“Good and Evil are opposite points on a circle, Dr. Chiver. Greater good is just halfway back to Bad.” 18 likes
“No woman kills herself for love, and rarely for shame. It is the cruelty of hope that does a woman in; for no matter how many men a woman has given herself to, she never holds her life cheap until she foolishly believed it to be valued.” 13 likes
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