The Dress Lodger

The Dress LodgerA very strong 3.5 stars, which I m rounding up to 4 because I enjoyed itthan other recent books I ve given 3 stars to damnit GR, give us stars orof them to play with The Dress Lodger takes place in 1831 in Sunderland, an industrializing seaport on the northeast coast of England, as cholera gains its first foothold in the kingdom It s a decidedly grim novel, uncompromising in showing the desperate and dehumanizing poverty of the city s denizens, and the callow and callous indifference of the better off.Holman follows six characters Gustine Gustine is the dress lodger of the title A dress lodger is a prostitute who rents a fine dress to attract a better class of customer She s the fifteen year old mother of a boy who s born with an ectopic heart it s outside his ribcage, protected only by the skin and muscle of his chest Since age nine, Gustine has worked six days a week in a pottery factory, and now to support her son, she walks the streets wearing a dress rented from Whilky Robinson, her landlord and pimp Her desire to secure a safe life for her child seems within reach when she meets Dr Henry Chiver.The Eye The Eye is Gustine s shadow, hired by Whilky to follow the girl so she won t steal the dress An ancient, one eyed hag, The Eye becomes the focus of Gustine s hatred, anger and fear for her child s life as she believes the old woman is responsible for the baby s deformity and wants to finish the job started at his birth by killing him.Dr Henry Chiver Chiver was a student of Dr Knox, the Edinburgh physician who benefited from the murderous acquisitions of Brendan Burke and William Hare, serial murderers who provided doctors with bodies for dissection His reputation ruined, Chiver has moved to Sunderland, where his fianc e s uncle, also a doctor, lives Circumstances conspire to bring Chiver and Gustine together one night where he tells her of his need for bodies and she realizes he could be the means to save her baby.Audrey Place Audrey is Chiver s fianc e She s only a couple of years older than Gustine but her life has been comfortable and fenced off from the horrific conditions most Sunderlanders live under Intelligent but na ve, her innocent charitable efforts have far reaching and tragic consequences.Whilky Robinson Robinson is the ignorant, brutal landlord of 9 Mill Street and Gustine s pimp He s a pretty despicable character and it s not easy to muster much empathy for the man but Holman avoids making him a cardboard villain.Pink Pink is the eight year old daughter of Robinson, called so because she has conjunctivitis, and her reddened eyes constantly weep tears and pus.The story is told in a gently sardonic, third person omniscient voice that we learn toward the end is the collective voice of the dead poor who fill the paupers graves of Sunderland s churches.I enjoyed the book Perhaps because despite it s depressing subject and depraved plot hope remains Gustine and The Eye achieve epiphanies of understanding and compassion that lift them above the self centeredness and or apathy of their neighbors There s no happy ending but they are better people for what they ve endured.The only false note I found in Holman s Gustine comes in the final pages in the final confrontation between Gustine and Chiver Gustine s baby has died from the cholera, and Chiver has stolen his body from the cemetery Gustine has come to his house looking for the body and is in the process of trashing the home when the following exchange occursIf it were for the greater good, I would so willingly, he says The greater good Gustine shrugs Good and Evil are opposite points on a circle, Dr Chiver Greater good is just halfway back to Badp 266 I don t have a problem believing that an uneducated, fifteen year old girl could intuitively grasp such a concept but I don t think an uneducated, fifteen year old girl could express it so eloquently and assuredly In this case, I think the author s voice displaced the authentic voice of her character But aside from that minor discordance, I very much liked The Dress Lodger and would recommend it. Strife and a different sort of love in the time of cholera Vividly illustrated via a compelling premise, characters, and ironic twists for thoughtful readers The audiobook performer is superb. In Sunderland, England, A City Quarantined By The Cholera Epidemic Of , A Defiant, Fifteen Year Old Beauty In An Elegant Blue Dress Makes Her Way Between Shadow And Lamp Light A Potter S Assistant By Day And Dress Lodger By Night, Gustine Sells Herself For Necessity In A Rented Gown, Scrimping To Feed And Protect Her Only Love Her Fragile Baby Boy She Holds A Glimmer Of Hope After Meeting Dr Henry Chiver, A Prisoner Of His Own Dark Past But In A World Where Suspicion Of Medicine Runs Rampant Like A Fever, These Two Lost Souls Will Become Irrevocably Linked, As Each Crosses Lines Between Rich And Destitute, Decorum And Abandon, Damnation And Salvation By Turns Tender And Horrifying, The Dress Lodger Is A Captivating Historical Thriller Charged With A Distinctly Modern Voice I read the first half of this book in a tremendous rush, totally engrossed by the story and both horrified and fascinated by Holman s depiction of the cholera epidemic of 1831 I m not sure exactly what happened in the second half of the book, but somehow the spell was broken Holman inconsistently employs a fair amount of narrative trickery that didn t seem to add much to the book, and the lack of subtlety became frustrating after a while I ve recently read several books set in the drawing rooms of the Victorian upper classes, so it was fascinating to get a look at the other side of life at that time disease, prostitution, foul living conditions, crushing poverty, social unrest but it s unfortunate that Holman s book wasn t as good as it could have been Still, there are powerful images in The Dress Lodger, particularly of the toxicity that seems to lie in wait in every part of the book Also, cholera is no joke I didn t know very much about the disease before reading this book, but it is not to be taken lightly I was amazed to learn about the way cholera swept over Europe in waves throughout the 19th century, and the way a person who is infected with it can go from perfectly healthy to dead in a matter of hours.All in all, the book is a decent, mostly engaging read The prose is a bit heavy handed at times and is weighed down by Holman s odd narratological choices Holman s ambition seems to be greater than her talent, but the book is worth reading nonetheless. Turn the pages of The Dress Lodger and you re turning the dial on a time machine Destination England, 1831.Sheri Holman s novel is one of those rare pieces of historical fiction which thrust you so completely into another time, another place, that the modern world with all its bright, sparkly conveniences melts away Welcome to the Industrial Revolution, dear reader You ll feel the mud, you ll smell the rotting wharf life, you ll taste the bitter cholera on your tongue You ll also want to shower afterwards.The Dress Lodger is part thriller, part character study, part social treatise But it s all good.Written in the florid style of Charles Dickens, but with the darkly ick factor of a modern day Stephen King, the book follows several characters through the port town of Sunderland during a horrific cholera epidemic in the fall of 1831 Gustine is a potter s assistant by day, a 15 year old prostitute by night As she walks the streets of Sunderland looking for a quick poke from any man with coins in his pocket, she s trailed by an ugly old hag known only as the Eye The one eyed crone is paid by Gustine s pimp to keep an eye on her while she plies her private wares Gustine is one of those prostitutes who s known as a dress lodger each night, she wears a blue gown to attract men Her pimp hires the Eye spy to make sure the valuable dress isn t stolen Here s how Holman describes the arrangement Dress lodging works on this basic principle a cheap whore is given a fancy dress to pass as a higher class of prostitute The higher the class of prostitute, the higher the station, the higher the price In return, the girl is given a roof over her head and a few hours of make believe Everyone is happy.Except everyone in Sunderland is miserable The town has been quarantined, strangling the city s economy Ships must remain off shore while their cargo rots in the holds below Meanwhile, most of the residents believe the cholera epidemic is a government conspiracy created to scare the poor classes Most people don t even believe there s such a thing as the deadly disease To the working class citizens, doctors are the real villains in early 19th century England after all, they re the ones who go around robbing graves and dissecting corpses, all in the name of science.This brings us to our next character Dr Henry Chiver, a zealous young surgeon who s recently fled Edinburgh where he was involved in a famous case of two anatomists Burke and Hare who were convicted of murder and grave robbing Holman paints Henry in some pretty unflattering light he s selfish, self righteous and chillingly devoted to the pursuit of science even at the expense of human life.Henry and Gustine collide early in the course of the novel as each discovers the other has something they want For Henry, it s a chance forbodies as Gustine leads him to corpses she discovers during her street peddling For Gustine, the possibly deranged doctor represents her last best hope for her infant, a little boy who was born with his heart on the outside of his body yes, literally you have to read it to believe it.The novel is filled with bodysnatching, crude dissections and scenes of primitive medical horror that Hannibal Lecter would probably read like pornography The weak stomached are warned that some pages are rather hard to well, stomach But, thanks to Holman s incredible eye for detail, the language is always vivid and rich Here, for instance, is one particularly memorable grave robbing scene Henry drops the body sharply against the coffin and scrambles back to the surface This isn t happening Calm down Calm down, he tells himself Men far less competent and careful than you have dug up bodies and not been driven mad by it Reach in, feel under her armpits Pull Yes, this is not the smell of rye, but merely a ripening body not yet preserved in salt This heaviness I understand it is not a frantic pulling back to the grave but the purely scientific phenomenon of blood pooling in the extremities He lies flat on his belly and tugs the young woman free of the earth.Holman s way with words is so good that it overshadows some of the book s problems namely, the unlikable Henry who takes center stage in the narrative like a raving Dr Frankenstein, and the pitiable Gustine who blindly and resolutely walks toward tragedy even as we re clenching our fingers where they grip the book and calling out, No, no, no The Dress Lodger ends in a heap of grim, cluttered tragedy which almost literally hurts to read But I can see Holman s point this wasn t the best of times, it was the worst of times. This novel is sick, dark, hopeless It is difficult to get into, because of the strange point of view that is not explained until later on It tells the story of the uprise of Cholera morbus in a small city in England It has a doctor who steals corpses to teach anatomy and a potter woman who have to walk at night with a blue dress to get customers as a whore, so she can feed her sick baby It has poor people, all kind of poor people, and a student of life that could be a mockerong of the writer if it he just was able to guess people right.The sickness of the Cholera is just a compass of the sickness of a society where the poor have to survive on scratches of a rich society that walks on jewels and expensive dresses and worries about the greater good The mistakes of the poor people are just the mirror of the souls of the rich people.It is a sick and morbid story, but once I was able to get the narrator voice and play along, I was unable to stop And while corpses piled up as much as the sins, pages moved fast and I lived the terrible fate of their characters This is the work of a genius Pray to Sheri Holman. So far I love the unique voice this book is told in VERY original narration What fun I finished this book today I loved it It does remind me of Dickens and his dark view of society The cholera epidemic makes for a bit of a downer I wish I could study this book with a class I know there are a ton of metaphors and great comparisons within the story that would be fun to delve deeper into with a group If it weren t for the prostitution story line I would think it would be great for classroom study BUT the author doesn t dwell on this in any way There is muchstory to this than that The best part of this strange little book is the writing I see that some readers are annoyed by the second person present point of view and the dear reader business, but I was charmed by the quirky narration The prose is rich and atmospheric the story is a gripping melodrama, certainly over the top in places, but crammed with fascinating historical details which will make you glad not to have been born poor 200 years ago.The setting is northern England in 1831, just as the cholera morbus enters the country, and not long after the infamous Burke Hare were discovered to be murdering people in Edinburgh in order to supply corpses to Dr Knox for dissection The poor are terrified of grave robbing doctors the doctors are afraid of what will happen when the plague encounters the unspeakable living conditions of the poor. Once upon a time, I don t remember what prompted me to do soa review I read somewhere, a synopsis of the book, perhaps both of these or neither I put The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman on my TBR wish list And there it sat until I came across a nice, gently used copy at my local library s used book shop I promptly brought it home and put it on the physical TBR pile s gracing my back bedroom Then, this week I found myself at loose ends I ve finished all my formal book challenges for 2010 It s not yet time to begin those that I ve signed up for in 2011 and I wanted a little break from Georgette Heyer So, I picked up Holman s book in anticipation of finally reading what I expected to be a fine book.Oh My This book has what I can only describe as one of the most god awful opening two chapters I have ever read And the weird, omniscient, yet second person point of view is incredibly irritating Stilted writing Bore you to tears historical detail about beating clay for pottery for heaven s sake among every other detail about the early 1800s that you never wanted to know This book has all the right elements for an extremely fascinating historical read used in every way to their worst advantage.Set in Sunderland, England during the cholera epidemic of 1831, it follows the stories of a beautiful 15 year old girl who works at the pottery yards by day and as a dress lodger by night read prostitute in a fancy dress and a doctor who wants to find a way to provide bodies for research and knowlege to better combat the diseases that face the people of this tragic time She is trying desperately to support her frail young son.a son who could benefit from the doctor s help The two lives become entwined.but the suspicion that follows those who dare to be doctors make life difficult.As I saidif you read the synopsis, this book has all the elements for a terrific historical story Except the one thing every piece of fiction needsengaging story telling At no point did I ever really care about Gustine and her baby I didn t really care if Dr Henry Chiver was able to help her or anyone else The reader was meant to feel the heartbreak and become invested in the tragedy of these lives I found myself wishing I had invested my time elsewhere.I have always said that I am perfectly willing to praise a book to the skies or reveal how badly it stinks I have no problem giving a poor review This one rates half a starand I m not sure that this isn t being generous There are only 16 days left in this year.I will be hard pressed to find another book which will be a greater disappointment to me At this point, The Dress Lodger has the dubious honor of being the worst read of 2010 This review was first posted on my blog My Reader s Block Please request permission before reposting Thanks. This was a February book club assignment, from one of our members who loves well written historical fiction As far as I m concerned, she gave us a real winner this time Pitting poor against rich in a quarantined town during the 1833 cholera epidemic, we learn that some diseases don t give a damn how high born or wealthy you are Also at issue are the doctors and researchers who employ grave robbers resurrectionists to provide dead bodies for students to learn anatomy Mix this all together with a 15 year old prostitute who is also the mother of a baby with a very rare medical deformity, a doctor who is only concerned with the greater good , and a cast of supporting characters right out of Dickens, and in my opinion, you have a whopping good story.I was intrigued all along with the voice of the narrator, which gave it an otherworldly feel, and the revelation of the identity late in the book was most satisfying.This book is not for everyone, as evidenced by the other reviews I ve read, but I loved it Our discussion this month will be interesting, to say the least

Sheri Holman graduated from The College of William and Mary in 1988, mastering in Theatre From there, she became an assistant to a literary agent In that time, she began to write her first novel, A Stolen Tongue It was published in 1996 She then went on to write The Dress Lodger, which was published in 1999 Sheri Holman also wrote Sondok, Princess of the Moon and Stars, which was

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  • Paperback
  • 291 pages
  • The Dress Lodger
  • Sheri Holman
  • English
  • 02 October 2018
  • 9780345436917

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