Skyring's Reviews > The Dress Lodger

The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman
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's review
Sep 29, 2010

really liked it
Read from September 29 to October 04, 2010

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 little unsettling. In keeping with the theme of the book.

However, it works, and the occasional "foregrounding" of the storyteller distracts the reader, in a book where distraction is sometimes welcome.

This is a book which engages the senses. All of them. Feel the mud of the river bank and the chill of the water. The smells alone almost require a lavender-scented kerchief held against the nose. And who cannot see the eerie glow in the gloom of the lodging-house as Pink snuffs the glim to show a visitor something.

The setting is Sunderland, England, early in the Victorian era. We walk in the filthy lanes, tread warily in the grander streets, and visit the varied workplaces, lodgings and entertainments of the poor. The poverty hits us hard. Who amongst we cossetted children of the modern age could survive in such conditions? It would be far more a struggle than the characters of this novel find it, and they find it very hard indeed.

The promises of engineering, medicine and science, not to mention reform politics, are faint in this time. All of these are in the hands of the powerful, and they are hardly keen to hand out riches and rewards. Not unless there is another promise. A promise of improved efficiency or profit. Cure the disease and the workers will remain hard at work. If they live longer, they work longer.

We look, thanks to the curious narrative style of this novel, directly into the thoughts of the major characters, and a fascinating view it is. They have their various obsessions and objectives, and there is plenty of room for conflict and confusion. Oh boy!

It all flows along, gathering pace nicely, though perhaps "nicely" is not a word to describe the plot or the setting or the characters. There's really only one character who is anywhere "nice", and well, you'll just have to read to find out what happens.

All told, it is a fascinating look into a neglected sliver of time and space. The curious narrative style extends the view through both in many directions, so we readers are in context throughout. Contexted, but not contented. This is not a book for a pleasant reading session!

But, having said that, if you get through the first chapter or so, you'll likely continue reading, out of morbid fascination at least!
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Reading Progress

09/29/2010 page 89
31.0% "An interesting narrative style, and a robust setting."

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