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The Dressmaker

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A darkly satirical novel of love, revenge, and 1950s haute couture—now a major motion picture starring Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, and Hugo Weaving

After twenty years spent mastering the art of dressmaking at couture houses in Paris, Tilly Dunnage returns to the small Australian town she was banished from as a child. She plans only to check on her ailing mother and leave. But Tilly decides to stay, and though she is still an outcast, her lush, exquisite dresses prove irresistible to the prim women of Dungatar. Through her fashion business, her friendship with Sergeant Farrat—the town’s only policeman, who harbors an unusual passion for fabrics—and a budding romance with Teddy, the local football star whose family is almost as reviled as hers, she finds a measure of grudging acceptance. But as her dresses begin to arouse competition and envy in town, causing old resentments to surface, it becomes clear that Tilly’s mind is set on a darker design: exacting revenge on those who wronged her, in the most spectacular fashion.

296 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2000

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About the author

Rosalie Ham

7 books205 followers
Rosalie Ham was born, and raised in Jerilderie, NSW, Australia. She completed her secondary education at St Margaret's School, Berwick in 1972. After travelling and working at a variety of jobs (including aged care) for most of her twenties, Rosalie completed a Bachelor of Education majoring in Drama and Literature (Deakin University, 1989), and achieved a Master of Arts, Creative Writing (RMIT, Melbourne) in 2007. Rosalie lives in Brunswick, Melbourne, and when she is not writing, Rosalie teaches literature. Her novels have sold over 50,000 copies.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,933 reviews
Profile Image for Sophie.
306 reviews5 followers
February 10, 2017
After twenty years, Tilly Dunnage returns to Dungatar, the small Australian town she grew up in, to visit her ill mother. Returning brings up memories of her unhappy childhood and the tragic accident which resulted in her leaving Dungatar as a child. Trained as a dressmaker at the couture houses of Paris, Tilly's beautiful gowns entice the prim and judgemental women of Dungatar and she becomes grudgingly accepted, until another accident causes the townspeople to turn on her.

The thing I disliked most about this book was the malicious way the author portrayed her characters. Stereotypes abound: the blowsy barmade, sexually frustrated spinster, the overbearing mother-in-law, the nosey neighbour, etc. Ham takes great delight in detailing people's physical failings in great and sometimes quite crass detail. In contrast, Tilly is almost saintly in her sophistication and suffering, with her alabaster skin, abundant hair and gorgeous figure. The result is a large cast of extremely two-dimensional characters who are so grotesque that it's difficult to care what happens to them. The premise of the book, a woman returns to the town where she grew up unhappily in to confront past demons, is an interesting one, but here it seems like a childish dream, the kind of one where you go back to high school and show everybody who was mean to you how cool you are now and then punish them all. There's no exploration of why the townspeople are so unhappy, no understanding, just sordid little secrets. The melodramatic plot twists and turns and I just really wanted it to end. Tedious.
Profile Image for TL .
1,820 reviews35 followers
December 21, 2015
2.5 stars

Loved the idea but not the execution... it was hard to keep track of all the characters sometimes and they weren't portrayed in a flattering way. An air of prejudice and bitterness hangs over alot of the town and it made me want to shake the people there.

The plot moved slowly but methodically... it had its interesting points but most of the time it was blah. I don't mind slow moving books most times but this one was painfully slow.

I did like Tilly but it was hard to understand her at times, Teddy I was so-so on... "Mad Molly" was one of my favorites for most of the story.

One of those where you really don't like most of the characters but still read on to see what happens.

Never felt fully connected to everyone and I didn't understand the one blurb that proclaimed this a "Gothic tale" It didn't feel that way to me.

A fine idea but not an entirely enjoyable one. Perhaps that's part of the point?
I am curious about the movie so I may watch it, not sure yet.

Would recommend? Yes, you may like it better than me... I have a feeling this is one that won't stay with me. I don't regret reading it (and thank you again to my Goodreads Secret Santa!), just wish I had liked it better.

Aaah well, onto the next.

Happy reading!

Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,433 reviews814 followers
August 10, 2020
A strange story indeed. Quirky characters in what appears to be a typical, very small, country town in Victoria. Tilly (Myrtle) has returned from The Big Wide World to take care of her mother, Mad Molly Dunnage. She arrives one night at the train station with her bags and Singer sewing machine, and the only character I liked, Sergeant Farrat, drives her home to the smelly house on The Hill by the tip.

Tilly was bullied at school as a bastard and is snubbed by everyone now. Mum is all she has. Tilly discovers her mother is a scrawny, filthy, raving lunatic, determined to cause trouble. During the course of the book, we watch Tilly scrub, clean, cook and gradually clean both her mother and the house. As mother gets a bit healthier, she becomes a little less crazed. Still nutty, but not quite as vicious.

There were too many townsfolk and connections for me to keep track of, but some stood out, particularly the despised, impoverished McSwiney family. Dad is the night cart man, and one of the younger kids is “Barney, who was ‘not quite finished’. He was crooked, with an upside-down head and a club foot.”

There’s Muriel. “Lipstick sat on the ends of each hair of Muriel’s pale moustache, like tiny redhead matches. She needed a tint and a perm and her feet were dry and cracked, like big long warts.”

There’s the busybody chemist, Mr Almanac, who snoops in the photo packages that have come back from the lab to see what people are up to. Faith’s photos are not only of her and her husband, but there’s one of her reclining on a blanket next to another man’s car.

“Faith had been in, whispering to Mr Almanac that she ‘had an itch . . . down there’, and now he knew her lusty husband wasn’t the cause of her discomfort. Mr Almanac unscrewed the lid [of a jar of white paste] and sniffed, then reached for the open tin of White Lily abrasive cleaner on the sink at his elbow. He scooped some onto his fingers then plunged them into the potion and stirred, screwed the lid back on and put the jar at the front of the top shelf.”

Ewwww! Nasty man! It’s THAT kind of book. You’re never quite sure who is capable of what.

But at least Mr Almanac is paying for his sins, suffering from advanced Parkinson’s disease, which has bent him into a question mark, so much so that he can’t see where he’s going or control the direction or speed with which he stumbles until he hits something that stops him. His assistant aims him out the shop door, gives him a shove, and he chugs across the road, head down, to his wife, who holds out a cushion for his head to run into and stop him.

Quirky indeed. They are not major players in the story, but I have chosen them to illustrate the nature of the book without giving any spoilers. The sergeant is an absolutely delightful cross-dresser, which we learn in the first few pages. He is thrilled to discover Tilly is a dressmaker.

I often found it getting slow, and then suddenly, something completely unexpected would happen, including one of the funniest sex scenes I think I’ve ever read.

Some of the humour, like the chemist’s condition, is exaggerated, but we realise these people are stuck in this town and couldn’t really go anywhere else. Tilly DID go somewhere else and returned for her own reasons (which we eventually learn). She could still leave and survive, but I don’t think any of the others could, which makes the climax of the book all the more satisfying.

These people are more caricatures than characters, but then cartoons can be as revealing and as much fun as films, so who cares?

The off-beat humour will probably appeal to a lot of people, and I’ll be interested to see the film eventually. They certainly rounded up a good cast. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2910904/?...
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,164 reviews512 followers
August 10, 2022
The Dressmaker was undoubtedly the surprise of the year.

From the blurb:
A darkly satirical novel of love, revenge, and 1950s haute couture

Myrtle and Molly Dunnage were the outcasts in Dungatar, Australia. Paying for other people's sins were more like it, but the town did not find it difficult to make these two people the culprits of the town's many secrets, meanness and bigotry. Openly so. With no remorse of any kind.

Myrtle returns from Europe with her special dressmaking talents and turns the women into a gang of bon vivants on a haute couture-high, while taking care of her disabled mother.

Molly was mentally and emotionally disabled by the perpetual vendettas against her. Many years of neglect resulted in her physical poor health, unable to take care of herself.

When Myrtle returns, she decides to turn the tables. Gobsmackingly so! HOLY COW, yesssss!!!

The town had some bills coming their way and it will be paid in ways they never anticipated.

Pain will no longer be our curse, Molly,’ she(Myrtle) said. ‘It will be our revenge and our reason. I have made it my catalyst and my propeller. It seems only fair don’t you think?’

This is a beautiful book. Dark and sinister - haute couture noir, gothic in essence, if you will. However, the characters were funny, quirky, colorful, eccentric, smart, dumb and unique. The story: sad but wonderful.

There was a sinister town dumb and beautiful gardens. Magical and mystical gems. Beautiful souls who slowly bled to death. Spirit that conquered the unthinkable. It all changes when Myrtle arrives back in town. Revenge and redemption come into play big time.

The prose was lyrical and smart.

My favorite character is undoubtedly the cross-dressing police chief, Sergeant Horatio Farrat.

‘But oh my,’ said the sergeant and raised his shoulders and closed his eyes in rapture, ‘you should see the material Tilly’s got for herself!’ He placed his hands on his cheeks. ‘Silk organza – magenta! And the design – she’s a real couturier,’ he sighed. ‘The structure of Balenciaga, the simplicity of Chanel, the drapery of Vionnet and the art of Delaunay.’ He walked away with his hat perched smartly and his shoes sparkling.

The McSwineys were the other down-and-out family, with the dad being the night cart man, and Barney not quite what he should be with his club foot and upside down head.

There was a gap in the McSwiney children after Barney, a pause, but they had got used to him and decided there wasn’t much wrong really, and started again fairly quickly. In all there were now eleven McSwiney offspring.

I haven't read the blurb or reviews on the book, apart from PattyMacDotComma's enticing thoughts, and decided to make this an impromptu read. A sort of on a whim-read. What a delight it was.

And then discover DeB MaRtEnS's informative review, providing the meaning of some of the names in the book!. Great job, DeB. Love the result of your literary sleuthing. :-))

How great was the surprise to discover from the blurb that this book have become a major motion picture starring Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth. It is a super idea! This book, is like, The Light Between The Oceans by M.L.Stedman, an Australian gem. Absolutely brilliant.

I'm going to watch the movie now.

Profile Image for Carole.
858 reviews10 followers
October 7, 2014
What a delicious book! I loved the dark humour of this Australian novel. The characters in the small down of Dungatar are so awful that you just have to love them. I loved the writing, the links with fabric, fashion and sewing, and could picture it all in detail. I'm sure I read this with a permanent smile on my face and I didn't want it to end. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Peiman E iran.
1,394 reviews703 followers
August 17, 2017
‎دوستانِ گرانقدر، این داستانِ زیبا، در موردِ انتقام گرفتنِ زنی به نامِ <تیلی دانیچ>، از مردمِ پست و خاله زنک و دروغگویِ شهرِ کوچکی به نامِ دانگاتار میباشد... البته فکر نمیکنم این کتاب ترجمهٔ فارسی داشته باشد
‎تیلی دانیچ که در داستان هرزگاهی او را با نامِ <مرتل> نیز میشناسیم، دختربچه ای بی پدر بوده که همراه مادرش زندگی میکرده است.. مردمِ شهر مادرِ تیلی را که مالی نام دارد، خودفروش و کثیف میدانند، لذا بچه های مدرسه و حتی بیولا هاردین، معلمِ کثیف و روانیِ مدرسه، دخترک را اذیت میکنند و کتک میزنند
‎یک اتفاق زندگی تیلی را تغییر می دهد.. استوارت پسرِ شهردارِ شهر یعنی آقای پتیمن، که پسری بی ادب و گستاخ است و همیشه تیلی را کتک میزند، گردنش میشکند و کشته میشود.. معلمِ مدرسه و بچه ها شهادت میدهند که تیلی او را کشته است... پلیس شهر، گروهبان فارات به دستورِ شهردارِ کثیف و منحرفِ شهر، آقایِ پتیمن، تیلی را از مادرش جدا کرده و از شهر به بیرون میبرند
‎حال 25 سال از آن اتفاق سپری شده است و تیلی بزرگ شده است و طراح لباس شده و به زبان ساده میتوان گفت که در طراحی لباس و خیاطی معجزه میکند... او از فرانسه به استرالیا بازمیگردد تا از اهالی شهر انتقام بگیرد
‎تنها کسانی که عاشقانه و دوستانه به تیلی نزدیک میشوند، جوانی زیباروی به نامِ تدی و همچنین گروهبان فارات هستند که تدی عاشق تیلی شده و گروهبان نیز که قلبِ مهربانی دارد و تمایلاتش زنانه است، قصد جبرانِ ستم و کاری را دارد که در گذشته به تیلی روا داشته اند
‎عزیزانم، بهتر است خودتان این داستان جذاب را بخوانید و از سرنوشتِ آن آگاه شوید و ببینید تیلی دانیچ چه انتقام سختی از این مردمِ دروغگو و بد سیرت ��یگیرد و چه سرنوشتِ غم انگیزی در انتظارِ عشقِ او و تدی میباشد
‎آیا واقعاً مادرِ تیلی فاحشه بوده و پدرش مشخص نیست.. و یا رازی در پسِ پرده وجود دارد!؟ ... آیا واقعاً تیلی دانیچ، استوارت پتیمن را به قتل ر��انده است!!؟
‎تنها با خواندنِ این داستان به پاسخ این پرسش ها خواهید رسید
‎بخشی از نوشتهٔ کتاب
‎مالی به دخترش تیلی: وقتی تو را از من دور کردند، میتوان گفت که خودم را کشتم... ولی درنهایت به این امید ماندم که دیگر هیچوقت به این (شهر) مکان مزخرف بازنمیگردی.. دور بودنت از اینجا بهتر بود.. اگر از اینجا تو را نمیفرستادند که بروی، مجبور میشدی تا همیشه پیشِ من در بالایِ این تپه مخفی شوی... امّا به جایِ آن، اکنون میتوانی که زیبایی بیافرینی...میتوانی انسانها را دگرگون کنی.. این قدرت بسیار زیادیست.. از آن برعلیه دشمنانت در این شهر استفاده کن
‎امیدوارم از خواندنِ این داستان لذت ببرید
‎<پیروز باشید و ایرانی>
Profile Image for Brenda.
4,097 reviews2,665 followers
December 6, 2016

When Tilly Dunnage returned after twenty years to Dungatar, the small Australian town she used to call home, she knew she would be shunned by the same people who had banished her as a child. She needed to check on the welfare of her mother, and then she would leave again. Tilly had been trained as a dressmaker in Paris; her skill was second to none – but that would mean nothing to the bitter and vengeful women of the town.

Tilly’s mother, Molly was in a dreadful state – demented and filthy, Tilly was shocked at the state of the home. But hard work had never worried Tilly – she set herself the task of righting the house, the garden and most importantly her mother. And she decided to stay in Dungatar, much to the disgust of the folk of the town. Sergeant Farrat picked up his earlier friendship with Tilly, and while she rebuffed Teddy, his stubbornness kept him by her side.

As the women saw the evidence of Tilly’s skill, they were bemused. But they also wanted to own beautiful dresses and so the competition to be the best dressed began. Rivalry and resentment were rife in the town – whatever would happen next?

The Dressmaker by Aussie author Rosalie Ham wasn’t at all like I expected. I was shocked at the unexpectedly crude and graphic descriptions in certain parts of the book and I still have no idea why they were there. To my mind, they didn’t add to the story – in fact for me it’s quite the opposite. Yet in other places it was quite humerous. So I’m sorry to say I didn’t like the book and was really disappointed, skimming through sections to reach the end.
Profile Image for Myrna.
708 reviews
April 1, 2017
The premise of this book is good; however, the novel involves too many characters and too many plots. Really struggled to get into this book at the beginning but did get better. Look forward to the movie.
Profile Image for Amanda Mae.
337 reviews20 followers
September 6, 2015
An interesting book for sure. I was initially intrigued about it when I learned Kate Winslet and a Hemsworth were going to be in the film adaptation. But I really hope the film changes some aspects of the story because when I got to a certain plot point I wanted to throw the book across the room I was so upset!

I love the idea of this awful little Australian town and all its oddball characters that Tilly returns to. But I struggled to follow all the characters and understand Tilly's motivations - when they are revealed, it seemed rushed and not terribly convincing. I feel like more could have been done to flesh out the story and characters and make them more distinctive. And I would have appreciated a little better resolution in the end. It didn't quite sit right with me.

But I still enjoyed the experience of reading the book overall, and look forward to seeing how it translates to the screen.
Profile Image for 余馨.
30 reviews3 followers
February 27, 2013
what a hoot! what a period piece! it's a slice of 1950s country town Australia. which makes it a slice of pavlova. you'll slap the laminex table in mirth. you'll settle back with a shandy in the banana lounge and chuckle your way through it. the descriptions of the gowns are divine! particularly one number that the author assures us "flattered her fridge like form". the humour may be lost on the foreigners, so proceed with caution if you're not from the antipodes...
Profile Image for Maiju.
123 reviews19 followers
May 25, 2016
It is rare, but sometimes one comes across a book, read it and then think: I wish I'd just watched the film.

This might be one of the worst books I've actually finished reading. And I finished reading it because it is relatively short and I wanted to see if at any point it would get any better. It didn't.

It was very chaotic. Both in plot and in style. The style seemed to vary within paragraphs and sometimes I got confused at the order of the narrative, it seemed totally illogical at places. It also felt like there were two completely different stories which just barely touched each other. As if the author had first written a story and then the editor had asked her to add a sideplot.

The sad thing is, that the main story, in the hands of a more proficient writer, could have been pretty good. But from the start I didn't feel any connection with the main character. There were so many angles that I could have identified with in the main character, but I didn't because she was so badly built.

There were attempts at foreshadowing at some points, but waaaay too late to be effective. At every plot point revelation I felt like: oh, OK, I don't care. Probably just because I didn't actually care for the characters.

I skimmed most of the clothes' descriptions. I mean come on! Even in historical romances the clothes are described so that the main male character can later rip them off in passion... There was no relevance to the descripitions after the first few, which were ok, so that the reader could get the gist of the style.

I doubt even if I will watch the film...
Profile Image for Leah.
1,052 reviews58 followers
August 16, 2015
The cast was overwhelmingly large and, even having finished it, I'm still having a hard time getting everyone straight. Ms. Ham's attempt at memorable characters was a letdown and, instead, every person in this book was a complete caricature: there's the frumpy spinster, the highbrow mother-in-law, the crossdressing sheriff. By the end of the book, there's an odd veer into a town production of a Shakespeare play and a baffling moment when Tilly gets her revenge that left me scratching my head. While I enjoyed the peek into small-town life, I wish The Dressmaker would have stuck with Tilly's story. I wanted to know so much more about this woman, particularly her past, but those moments were unfortunately dedicated instead to characters I didn't care for at all.
March 19, 2016

This book was chosen by a local book club I'm part of and had very mixed reviews from the group. Some really enjoyed, loving the quirkiness of the prose and the characters but some found the story a little dull. A complaint from a few was the plethora of additional characters, which I personally felt were almost part of the scenery adding layers to the feel of the storyboard. The third person narrative combined with the excessive amount of characters, at times, made the story lose focus for my personal tastes and caused my disinterest in the happenings. I mostly enjoyed the heroine’s story and I wish more of this element had been explored within the prose to increase my overall enjoyment.
1 review
January 3, 2013
I really did not enjoy this novel.
I found the characters clichéd and one-dimensional; parodies of themselves.
The prose was cringe-worthy at times and unremarkable at others.
The references to 1950s Australian brands were nice for me as an Australian to recognise, but nothing more.
Rosalie Ham appears to me, an un-fashion aware person, to know her stuff when it comes to dresses and dressmaking. Unfortunately, this does not translate to an enjoyable book.
Profile Image for Linda Burnham.
180 reviews7 followers
November 18, 2015
Wow, I love this book! It has so many things that I like about it, ie. it's an Australian story which beautifully evokes the central Victorian countryside in which it is set; it is a great yarn, it's imaginative, darkly funny, enthralling and just so darn satisfying; I highly recommend it to anyone whether you've seen the film or not. I read the book after seeing the film and am glad I did it in that order because inevitably changes must be made in bringing a book to the screen and while the film is enjoyable, if flawed, the book holds its own as a wonderfully warped piece of revenge fiction and a worthy addition to Australia's literary heritage. Which all begs the question, why hadn't I heard of it before now?
Profile Image for Lata.
3,593 reviews191 followers
January 30, 2021
Tilly returns after many years away in Europe, working as a couturier, to her hometown, the small town of Dungatar, to find that it is still filled with all the people who ostracized and bullied her mother and her for all her childhood.
Tilly finds her mother starving, living in filth, and barely sane. After cleaning her home and feeding her, Tilly begins the slow job of bringing her mother back to herself.
Tilly’s eye-catching dress designs rapidly attract the attention of the Dungatar women, who commission several outfits from her. And though they love their new apparel, they still refuse to see Tilly as a person, and reject her repeatedly, until a terrible accident which pretty much puts paid to ever gaining any respect from the town, and which leads eventually to Tilly’s rather spectacular act of revenge.

This was both compelling and difficult to get through. Almost everyone in this story is loathesome, and I kept waiting for them to get their comeuppance, which thankfully they do. I found the plot a little slow at times, and unfortunately, I could barely distinguish one townsperson from the other, which made the character interactions a little confusing. I did keep reading though, and was able to cheer Tilly’s return to the train station at the end.
Profile Image for Zsa Zsa.
359 reviews64 followers
April 1, 2019
It was sad and true, the writing got a little boring with too many details of dresses at times but overall, it was a fast read.
Profile Image for Vaso.
1,138 reviews146 followers
February 6, 2017
Η Τίλη επιστρέφει μετα απο χρόνια στη γενέτειρα της για να φροντίσει τη μητέρα της. Οι κάτοικοι του χωριού δεν βλέπουν την επιστροφή της με "καλό" μάτι. Όταν εκείνη ράβει το νυφικό της Γερτρουδης, οι κύριες του χωριού, αρχίζουν να ανηφορίζουν το λόφο, ζητώντας της να τους ανανεώσει τις γκαρνταρόμπες τους. Τα πρόσωπα του χωριού και οι ιστορίες τους ειναι ξεκαρδιστικές κάποιες φορές. Βέβαια, η κακιά και οι μικρότητες δεν λείπουν, όσο κι αν πασχίζει η Τίλη να τους δείξει την αξία της. Όσο σκληρά κι αν προσπαθήσεις, ειδικά στις μικρές κοινωνίες, ειναι πολύ δύσκολο να αλλάξεις τη γνώμη που οι άλλοι μπορεί να έχουν σχηματίσει για σένα, δικαίως ή αδίκως...

3,5 αστέρια
Profile Image for Rebecca.
Author 13 books20 followers
November 4, 2015
I had to stop in the middle of this, partly because the story was unpleasant but mostly because it was confusing. Ham had too many characters, too many time lines, and too much insanity going on in the plot.

Tilly, raised an outcast and abused by everyone, comes home to her Australian outback town, a successful dressmaker. Her mother, the town whore, has gone so crazy you wonder why no one's locked the old bat up in an asylum. Anything would be better than the filth she's living in now. Tilly dazzles the town with her dresses, not that the residents are worth impressing. It would be hard to find a more unpleasant group of people than Ham portrays in this story: a cross dressing cop, a thieving postmistresses, a nutty spinster who thinks children are attacking her with seed pods...the weirdness goes on and on but never actually arrives somewhere.

There are better books in the world. I'm giving this one a pass.
Profile Image for Laura.
699 reviews103 followers
July 21, 2016
I admit it, I'm a sucker for a novel thats been noticed enough to be adapted into a movie. Most of the time I will read the book then see the film adaption to see where it differs. I decided to read The Dressmaker because I think Kate Winslet is a phenomenal actress; she usually picks very interesting roles to play hence why I thought this would be an ideal book to get my teeth sunk into. Unfortunately, it was an underwhelming experience.

Myrtle, now known as Tilly, has returned to her small hometown in Australia to care for her ailing mother Molly. She left some years ago in a cloud of suspicion in her part played in the death of a young boy, and now she's come home to roost. A talented seamstress, Tilly is soon noticed by the towns-women who contract her to make their dresses. In a time when one of the only way women were able to express themselves freely - through their clothes and hairdos - Tilly takes advantage of the women's attraction to her craftsmanship.

This book was written from a third person perspective, but almost immediately I realised that I would have enjoyed it tenfold if it had been told from Tilly's perspective. There are a lot - and I mean a LOT - of characters to keep track of in this novel, a whole towns worth, to be specific. I found it difficult to connect or truly understand any one individual, even Tilly, who intrigued me. Additionally, this novel simply didn't hold my attention well. Because I couldn't understand the characters, I found myself not caring too much about them.

Luckily this book was a relatively short read, so I read it in two days. I think if it were the length of a standard novel, say four or five hundred pages, I would be adding it to my 'did not finish' pile!
Profile Image for Deborah Ideiosepius.
1,619 reviews128 followers
May 10, 2023
It is sometime in the 1950's somewhere in outback Australia as the tiny, dry, wheat belt town of Dungatar goes about it's insular business until one winter night an unexpected event: A greyhound bus lets off a passenger who will turn the whole town upside down.

Tilly Dunnage grew up in the town until she was sent away, she went out into the world to Melbourne and Europe where she became a creative and experienced dressmaker. Recently she had tried to contact her mother back in Dungatar and when she could not do so decided to come back.

Having seen the movie a while back I had been keen to read the book, however I am very glad I gave it plenty of time between the two because they are very different indeed. While some or even many of the 'main' events are the same, the book does things very, very differently.

The writing in this book is wonderful; it is rich in imagery, with scattered colloquialisms and Australiana facts that paint an intensely strong image for the reader. That the image the book paints and the image the movie showed are quite different at times, this created a bit of discontinuity for me. I had to concentrate hard to see things wholly from the book's point of view.

Because the book is much darker than the movie. Gloriously so, in fact. The people in the book are, for the most part all the worst of the insular, the malicious, the self satisfied and the cruel that are quite often to be found in small towns. The characterisations of the people of Dungatar are often stereotypes with just enough humour or quirkiness to make them stand up as individuals, but often few mitigating factors to make them likable. There are exceptions, several of the characters are very likable indeed, but as a rule while reading, one feels the chill of being in enemy territory as Tilly clearly is.

Whether it was intentional or not I also felt the book examined how the villains become what they are; the child who tormented child Tilly is no longer alive, but his parents are and as we see his father (definitely one of the harsher stereotypes) one starts to think how boy became what he was.

Tilly herself is a bit of a cipher - we don't really know why she came back. To care for her old, mad mother? Perhaps. That is what she told the townspeople. But her internal dialogue is not given to us, we need to discover her intents through her actions. I feel that we never truly learn her inner motivations (you, who saw the movie may think you do, but you probably don't) or her goals and wants. Although in the book we have time enough as she is in Dungatar for a few years at least.

Comparisons are invidious but; while the dressmaking took complete centre stage in the movie, it is less so in the book. Though the dressmaking is very central to the plot in many ways, the images of everyone swanning around the town in designer dresses is wholly a movie thing, the book is more rational about it. The images of Tilly sewing school children's uniforms is as woven in with her personal, mysterious journey as are the scenes of the shop-girls wedding gown, which is part of one of the story arcs that go throughout the novel.

In many ways Tilly herself has very little story arc, and few triumphs. She is more the focus and the lens through which we see the many other story arcs of the many other inhabitants of Dungatar, all of which are fascinating, many of which are thoroughly disturbing in small hard ways.

Magnificent book! Much meatier reading than the movie led me to expect.

P.S. I read the paperback, not kindle.
Profile Image for ♥ Sandi ❣	.
1,270 reviews8 followers
August 10, 2018
3.25 stars

A retake on the "girl that lives across the tracks", but in this case the one that lives up on the hill. A story of a depressingly poor community that ostracizes the family that lives on the "hill". Tilly has come back home after traveling the world and learning her craft, to find her mother "Mad Molly" in very poor shape. The town's women, who only bullied and abused Tilly as a child, now want Tilly to make them stylish dresses. After holding her head high in town, losing two people very close to her, Tilly manages the ultimate revenge on the town.

The story takes place in Australia. I noticed slight changes throughout the story, such as some forms of speech and the name of some objects. But the story itself is universal and although I felt it halting in a few places, I think overall the author did a good job in conveying both the reasons for, and the act of, revenge.
Profile Image for Wendy'sThoughts.
2,650 reviews3,233 followers
March 15, 2021
3.5 Winning Kate Winslet Stars-Book Sale-$1.99!!!!
* * * 1/2 Spoiler Free- A MOVIE Review
Yes, I cheated again and this is about the movie, not the book. I saw the trailer for this movie years ago and have been searching for it on and off for a while now. I got lucky today and found it on Amazon Prime.

The actors were strong, Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, and Judy Davis as the main characters. This was quirky, in the 1950s and the costumes were worth watching.

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Profile Image for ☕️Hélène⚜️.
210 reviews14 followers
April 25, 2019
Ok! this book was quirky and full of strange characters. I gave it a solid 4 stars. Easy to follow. Loved the revenge that Tilly did at the end. After, treating her and her mother horribly for years well! revenge was sweet plus she made them pay for all the costumes and left town with her head up. Two sad parts only. This movie would of made me laugh so much I might of pissed in my pants but I do prefer to read the book because you get more of the story.
I do recommend this book. It’s an easy read!
Profile Image for Jayne  Downes.
225 reviews2 followers
August 24, 2016
A great book. I loved the dark humour and the descriptions of the mean spirited people of the small town. Beautifully written.
Profile Image for Elaine.
360 reviews
June 17, 2016
This is a reread of this book for me as I had read it in 2000 when it first came out. After seeing the movie recently I realised that aside from a few details I couldn't remember anything about the book. I don't often feel this way but I think in this instance I enjoyed the movie more than I did the book. It may not have helped that I was probably influenced by the movie and kept picturing the actors who played the characters, whilst reading which is not always a good thing. I did enjoy Ham's writing and her wry humour. I did feel that not a lot was happening and it wasn't until about the last third of the book that things started moving for me and it became more interesting. The description of many of the outfits and material which was so much a part of Tilly was entertaining to read and created quite a vivid visual element. My favourite character would have to be Sergeant Horatio Farrat . He was such a character and a true friend I think to Tilly. I must admit too that it helped my enjoyment of this book to have recently viewed the costumes from the movie here in Melbourne at Ripponlea House.
Profile Image for Sofia.
281 reviews92 followers
March 14, 2016
Ενδιαφέρουσα ιστορία αλλά με αρκετά προβλήματα..Για αρχή, υπάρχουν πολλά ονόματα και χαρακτήρες που δύσκολα συγκρατείς. Η Ham στην προσπάθειά της να τονίσει την μικροπρέπεια και το κουτσομπολιό μιας μικρής επαρχιακής κοινωνίας,κάνει σχεδόν όλα τα πρόσωπα αντιπαθή έως αποκρουστικά. Αυτό με ενόχλησε πιο πολύ απ'όλα.Επίσης κάποιες φορές αγγίζει τα όρια του μελό.
Το τέλος αποδομεί,κατα την γνώμη μου,όλη την ανωτερότητα της Τίλη.
Στα θετικά έχω να πω ότι η ανάγνωση κυλάει αβίαστα και κάποιες από τις ατάκες της Μόλη είναι πραγματικά πολύ έξυπνες. Βοήθησε πολύ ότι είχα στο μυαλό μου την Κέιτ Γουίνσλετ ως πρωταγωνίστρια,διαφορετικά μπορεί να έδινα ακόμα λιγότερα *** (2,5 ήθελα να βάλω αλλά δεν έχει το 0.5)
Profile Image for Niki.
743 reviews116 followers
September 23, 2018
DNF @44%. I had forgotten that this was still on my "Currently reading" list, I've given up on it for.... a little more than a year now.

The writing is atrocious, the characters are uninteresting and kind of repulsive, and the "character returns and shows them all! plot is overdone. But the biggest problem has GOT to be the characters.

I watched the movie just to see how it ends, I wouldn't recommend it because I didn't enjoy it very much, but it was HEAPS better than the dumpster fire that is the book.
Profile Image for Jennifer (JC-S).
2,864 reviews197 followers
January 8, 2016
‘Travellers crossing the wheat-yellow plains to Dungatar would first notice a dark blot shimmering at the edge of the flatness.’

Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage returns to Dungatar (a fictional small Australian town) after an absence of twenty years. Nothing much seems to have changed in the town – Tilly and her mother ‘Mad Molly’ are regarded as outcasts – but her mother is ill and Tilly stays to care for her. During her absence, Tilly trained as an expert dressmaker in Paris, and the garments she makes are stunning. It isn’t long before the women of Dungatar covet outfits made by Tilly, even though she is still treated as an outcast. Why is Tilly an outcast? Keep reading: all will be revealed by the end.

‘Some people have more pain than they deserve, some don’t.’

Ms Ham has peopled Dungatar (such a horrible name) with (mostly) awful people. Few of these characters are likeable, fewer have any redeeming features at all. For me, the most likeable characters were Sergeant Farrat, the town policeman, and Teddy McSwiney. Tilly’s outfits flatter the wearers, they all want them, even if they aren’t quite so keen to pay. But Dungatar has some dark secrets, some deep rivalries and plenty of unhealthy competition.

I can’t write more without spoiling the novel for those who’ve not yet read it. Suffice to say that while some will find the ending satisfying, others may not. The novel has its own bleak, black comedic touches and in places is broodingly gothic. Yes, I must see the movie.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Profile Image for Hermien.
2,113 reviews48 followers
January 24, 2016
I didn't know what to make of this book at first. There was some slapstick falling face down in cream spunge kind of humour and then suddenly people were breathtakingly nasty. Just when you thought you knew where the story was going there was an unexpected turn. And then, bliss, sweet revenge.
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