As a sucker for corset-ripping historical drama but unfamiliar with the works of best-selling author Posie Graeme-Evans, I was quite excited by the prospect of tackling her most recent novel, The Dressmaker.
Encouraged by the promise of ‘a story that will resonate long after the last page is read’, I ventured merrily forth on a journey into the ‘opulent, sinister world of teeming Victorian England’. Unfortunately, I faltered at the very first step as the poorly-edited “introduction” turned out to be a blow-by-blow account of pretty much the entire plot, without so much as a “spoiler” warning in sight.
So if, like me, you enjoy losing yourself in a good story — trying to guess ahead and imagining where the protagonist will take you next — then you must head straight to the prologue.
I persevered, of course, and in some senses was rewarded as Graeme-Evans transported me, albeit slightly awkwardly, to a punishingly cold night in the heart of 19th century London.
There, in her salon, we met the wildly successful modiste and mantua maker to the English aristocracy, Ellen Gowan.
Ellen’s seemingly perfect world has just been rocked by the reappearance into her life of the romantically-named Frenchman, Raoul de Valentin.
Why has he returned? What hold does he have over her? Why is he threatening to bring her down?
If you have managed to avoid the introduction, the answers to these questions are revealed over the next few chapters and despite the sometimes predictable plot, I have to confess I became engrossed.
The Dressmaker is an unapologetically emotional tale of triumph over adversity with our heroine being rescued any number of times by family, friends, strangers and coincidence as she makes her way through all levels of English society.
The beautifully evocative language used to document the rise of this talented dressmaker is a charm to read, as are Graeme-Evans’s lively descriptions of the people, buildings and locations along the way.
By the end, Graeme-Evans had seduced me into banishing my cynicism and I’d had an enjoyable journey through a well-drawn period landscape.
But did the story resonate long after the last page was read? Sadly, for all I wanted it to, no.