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The Dressmaker

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  560 ratings  ·  71 reviews
If Liverpool in 1944 was grim for Rita and her aunts Nellie and Margo, Rita knew that life in America was gay and rich - she'd seen it in the movies. So when a GI came to call, she was sure that love and escape would follow. But Nellie knew different - the boy would have to go. ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published March 14th 1985 by Flamingo (first published 1973)
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This was the first of five Bainbridge novels to be shortlisted for the Booker, and is quite similar in character to the following year's The Bottle Factory Outing.

Once again we appear to be in a gently nostalgic comedy, this time set in Second World War Liverpool among a household where 17-year old Rita lives with her two aunts Nellie and Margo (one a spinster, the other widowed by the previous war). The plot follows Rita's relationship with a young American soldier with whom she has very littl
Nov 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Two sisters, Nellie and Marge, live together with their brother's daughter, Rita. Jack, the brother, is a widower and a local butcher. He feels Rita's upbringing is more convenient with Nellie and Marge. Rita is growing up. She is trying to become a young woman, but her family cramp her development as they are frightened by the implications.

Bainbridge writes dialogue with wonderful ease and prose that is spare and intriguing. The complex relationships between characters with hidden desires and r
Laura Leaney
Jul 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I ordered this book after reading Beryl Bainbridge's obituary in the newspaper. Such accolades! I felt like a dolt for never having read any of her work, so I chose "The Dressmaker" to begin.

This slim novel is a testament to the power of the mundane. The book, nominated for the Booker prize, focuses on a small family in England during World War II: two old sisters and one brother, and the motherless child of that brother, Rita. The sisters, Auntie Nellie (the dressmaker of title) and Auntie Marg
Feb 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-read
Beryl Bainbridge showed her superior writing skills in this short novel about three women living their joyless lives in a repressed working class environment in Liverpool during WW-II. Their aim in life is to be looked upon as proper women, leading the proper little lives which they are expected to live. Give no offense, give no reason to be talked about, work hard, polish the furniture and be frugal. They succeed in even destroying a daring little action of the youngest one, so she can feel too ...more
Mar 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very well written, concise, memorable, haunting story set in Liverpool in 1944. This historical fiction, character based novel, is about the lives of 17 year old Rita, her two aunts, Nellie and Margo, who Rita lives with, and her father Jack, who is a butcher and lives close by. Rita’s mother died a number of years ago. Rita works in factory, Nellie is a dressmaker. Rita is emotionally naive and a loner. She meets and falls in love with an American GI. Rita’s first experience of being in love. ...more
Jun 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stunted emotions, stunted lives. Bleak. If this book were a painting it would be all gray with a thin slash of red. The characters and the story suck you in and, bleak though it may be, it is worth it to read it all. Outstanding.
Oct 13, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: two-star
This was a strange book by modern day readers standards. A short novel at under two hundred pages, there is little that can be said in terms of the synopsis as its pretty clear cut from the first letter. I understand the author was the recipient of the Man Booker Prize of 1973, which is to be commended, however I felt disconnected from the characters almost instantly when I began to read this book.

The writing tone is old fashioned, which is to be expected. I admit to picking up this book on a w
Jan 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beryl Bainbridge's ability to use language sparingly while revealing so much about each character is really amazing. Like the setting of Liverpool during the Blitz, this story is dark and claustrophobic. Yet wondering what revelation would come next made the book a page turner. ...more
Liverpool 1944, Rita, who lives with her aunts, Nellie and Margo but also sees her father, Jack, is 17 and ready for love, although perhaps not brilliant about how to pursue her budding relationship with her new suitor. Her maiden aunt, Nellie, and her widowed aunt, Margo, have very different opinions and ideas about this new relationship, and it is fair to say that Nellie, the dressmaker, is not quite mentally sound. One can see that immediately in her passionate attachment to her late parents' ...more
After reading several novels by Bainbridge, I've come to the conclusion that I will never be a huge fan. I didn't outright dislike them; they just didn't do much for me. Aside from a few moments, this one was pretty milquetoast until the very end, when something unexpected occurs--and then it just stops with no satisfying conclusion. I guess the point she is making is simply to show how insular this particular family is. Nellie, the dressmaker of the title though perhaps not the main character, ...more
The Dressmaker by Beryl Bainbridge
10 out of 10

The Guardian has a very accurate take on this novel and it states that Beryl Bainbridge belongs to a golden era when novels were short and (nearly) perfect, as opposed to a modern age when they are getting much thicker (tomorrow, the under signed will post a note on the roman fleuve American Gods, which goes on for more than six hundred pages) without necessarily adding much in rewards for the readers – this is not a quote from the chronicle…anyway,
Terence Manleigh
Readers, this is an excellent novel, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, for Grown Ups. Don't be misled by the book cover, which implies a bittersweet wartime love story. And don't be misled by some blurbs describing this book as a "gothic psychological thriller" into thinking it's that, either. It's a spare, blackly humorous, desperately sad tale, deliciously written. It's my first encounter with Beryl Bainbridge - oh, my. If she'd been a poet, she'd be talked about in the same breath as Anne Sex ...more
Lesley Cullen
Dec 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Character based story set during the war, teeters along on the high heels of young and the flat shoes of ageing. Not a fun read, but the family pulls you into their lives and keeps you reading till the end. I really enjoyed it.
Oct 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
The blurb on the back of this book is very misleading: you'd think that Nellie was dead set against Ira and Rita's relationship from the beginning, when it's really the histrionic, selfish Margo who's sure he "has to go." Nellie is the practical Dressmaker of the title, and she's the one who reacts decisively at the end of the book. It's actually a very good depiction of a push-pull relationship: the 17 year-old Rita wants romance and a future together, while the older boy just wants sex. It's p ...more
May 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Booker shortlisted, this fourth novel from Beryl Bainbridge does represent her maturing craft. Wartime Liverpool provides an excellent backcloth and I was reminded of Colm Toibin's much later Brooklyn as well as the films of Terence Davies - both must clearly have been influenced by Bainbridge.

It's a cleverly plotted tale for which the only bum note is a pretty outlandish ending - events which are hinted at in an opening chapter that appears out of time sequence, a device the author deployed in
Feb 21, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having recently discovered this author, I'm pulling her work from the stack at our Public Library.

Once again, it's the dialogue of the very ordinary characters that I find so appealing. It is just downright quirky and hilarious. And then...a subtle dark twist pops up and I'm left thinking, "clever, very clever!"

Jul 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Nellie put a match to the fire so that Mrs Lyons wouldn’t catch her death. She grudged every morsel of coal burned in summer time, but she couldn’t afford to lose her customers. Even so, the room took some time to warm, and it wasn’t till Mrs Lyons had left that the benefit could be felt. Nellie made a pot of tea before getting ready for bed, spooning the sugar into Marge’s cup and hiding the basin before Marge could help herself. The aunts put on their flannel nightgowns over their clothes and ...more
A well written book, the stifling atmosphere in the family of four really hits you. I didn't particularly care for any of the characters, I sometimes wanted to kick their behind to let go of things and get on.

The beginning of the book is the end. And the end had a, for me, unexpected turn of events. Very good. It made me read the first chapter again with a different mindset.
Mar 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set in Liverpool during WW2, this is the tale of three siblings and one daughter, Rita. The siblings, Nellie, Jack and Marge are the product of a repressive working class upbringing and Rita calls them all Auntie or Uncle, although 'Uncle Jack' is in fact her father, widowed soon after Rita's birth. The stultifying character of the siblings' childhood is carried over into this generation with Nellie obsessively carrying on as her mother would have wished, polishing furniture and worrying about w ...more
Paula Maguire
Jan 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was getting really fed up reading dubious choices from the bookgroups so I promised that I'd treat myself to a personal choice(from my ever growing list) and this did not disappoint.
Set during the war, Rita a 17 year old who lives with her two aunts - one maiden Nellie - the dressmaker in question and one a widow Margo/Madge - Her father, Uncle Jack, left her with them when her mother died. Unfortunatley for her, Nellie is boss and has Edwardian ideas and values about how to bring children up
May 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've got no reservations at all about the brilliance of the author.

But I do have a slight preference for those novels of hers which are based around major historical events.

The world of 'The Dressmaker' is claustrophobic. The experience of reading it is like watching film noir. Occasionally I was reminded of Sarah Waters' 'The Night Watch.' The bleaks ugliness of Liverpool during the Blitz is wonderfully done.

And the way the book's structured is extraordinarily clever. Perhaps the pessimism whic
Mar 18, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Beryl Bainbridge is a genius, I really loved this short book set in wartime Liverpool.The story involves Rita a naive young girl living with her too aunts Margo and Nellie, when Rita meets Ira, a GI how will these repressed aunts take to him.Bainbridge not only creates realistic, unpleasant characters, but the cold, depressing atmosphere of their house is so vivid.I always imagined wartime Liverpool would be an exciting place of music and entertainment, not for the main characters in this book i ...more
It's no wonder that this book was shortlisted for the Booker prize. It's a good story. Rita lives with her two aging aunts during wartime England. You start to feel sorry for Rita, who has already started to take after her spinster aunts at the age of seventeen. She gets visits somewhat regularly by her "uncle" Jack who is actually her father. Her whole family gets involved when she starts seeing an American GI, Ira, and her family starts to interfere. It seems they want her to live the mundane ...more
As per a large number of her novels “The Dressmaker” is set in a working class family, this time in Liverpool during the Second World War. The main thread of the story follows the 17 year old Rita, naive and in love with an American who is a mechanic nearby. Rita was raised by her two aunts, Marge, who was once married to a soldier and is wise to the ways of the world, and Nellie, a dressmaker who covets their mother’s furniture in the hope of nothing changing.
For my full review go to http://mes
Julie Loy
Having only got half way through both 'Master Georgie' and 'The Bottle Factory Outing' I was determined to finish this. It was set in Liverpool in the World War 2 and a reminder of how cold and hungry everyone was and the impact of the GIs on both the men & the women. It was sad yet funny-very Beryl Bainbridge and a timely read l as I am going to a talk on GI brides at the British Library on Monday night. ...more
Excellent character portrayals. Evocative sense of time and place. A story which becomes more interesting as the book progresses.

Set in Liverpool in the late part of World War II. Historically interesting references to blackout curtains, the rationing of food and fuel and tobacco, the black market, and the effects of having soldiers stationed nearby.

Recommended, if all this sounds like your cup of tea.
Clare Coffey
I did enjoy this book as I do think that Beryl Bainbridge is a good writer. I enjoy her characterisations and I do like the characters of the two sisters in the book who live together- reminds me a bit of "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?".
It was also interesting to read about another Liverpool- coalyards behind Liverpool's Lime Street Station! I would definitely recommend this book to friends.
Jul 31, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A strange story in war time liverpool giving insight to tensions and relationships between small family of women including the romantic aspirations of the teenage girl when the she meets a GI and the unexpected effect he has on them all.
May 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: booker-prizes
A naive young woman chafing at her restrictive life, a comparatively glamorous GI, a wartime Liverpool setting and Beryl's wonderful dark humour are bound to add up to a good book. I liked the characters of the two aunts more than the young couple. ...more
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Play Book Tag: The Dressmaker by Beryl Bainbridge 5 21 May 15, 2018 02:03PM  

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Dame Beryl Margaret Bainbridge DBE was an English writer from Liverpool. She was primarily known for her works of psychological fiction, often set among the English working classes. Bainbridge won the Whitbread Award twice and was nominated for the Booker Prize five times. In 2008, The Times newspaper named Bainbridge among their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". ...more

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