This was a Book Club kit for our group. They unanimously disliked it. Most did not finish this book finding it gruesome and disturbing.
It is 1832 when an outbreak of cholera reaches England. In the riverside city of Sunderland, a teenage girl, a potter’s assistant by day, a prostitute by night, struggles to support herself and her baby. When a young doctor from London arrives in town their paths cross with dire consequences. Set in the time of the Reform Bill, with child labour and poverty confronting the working class, this heavily atmospheric novel is both gruesome and engaging.
Two characters, the young Gustine and the un-empathetic Dr. Henry Chiver, are separated by class and even by their aim of life. In this story they cross paths in ways that will tragically change them forever.
The descriptions in The Dress Lodger are thick with detail. The pacing is slow as a result, but that doesn't in the least take away from the urgency of the story. The central character, Gustine, lives during a time of nearly hopeless poverty. From the point of view of the lower class, you might confuse the time period as the Dark Ages and not pre-industrial England. This is how heartrendingly simple and limiting their lives are.
Holman is a worthy successor to Dickens, with respect to Victorian life's details : both pleasant, and..less than pleasant, things grand & down & dirty, too. Leave the new millenium behind for a while & let this fascinating & beautifully written novel draw you in from the very first line ("the boys down on the Low Quay know a hundred ways to sell bad fish". As Angela's Ashes author McCourt states, "Holman seduces you. Her prose, tart, racy, and sombre, will sing in your soul a long while."
A dark story with a powerful commentary on medicine, social classes and the mix of the two.
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