The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

I’ll be very interested in seeing the movie made of this book.

The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

‘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

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