The Dress Lodger

…by Sheri Holman.

Set in 19th century Sunderland, England, this story revolves around two main characters – Dr. Chiver and Gustine. In a Cholera stricken Sunderland, Dr. Chiver struggles to get his hands on cadavers in order to research and understand the disease, with the people of the city revolting against his work in every possible way. Gustine, a factory worker by day and a prostitute by night, is a mother of a baby with a special condition. When she meets Dr. Chiver she offers to help him finding bodies for his research, hoping that one day she can have him treat her baby’s condition. The book tells the story of the lives of these two characters, how their paths cross, how they help each other, how their relationship gets strained at one point when Dr. Chiver, how people of Sunderland react to Cholera taking over their city, and life/lifestyle in Sunderland during that period of time in general.

This engrossing dark tale of suffering and poverty left me in a depressed state of mind. How can one read about so gruesome and not feel sad? The divide between rich and poor, the struggle between a researcher and the common man, is all very well depicted. In parts, I started taking the doctor’s side and found myself wanting to shout out to the other characters to just let him do his job. The story is heart wrenching, cruel and very sad in parts, that it left me with a feeling unpleasant for long after I was done reading. So, this was definitely not a easy book to read.

The way the author paints each and every character in the book is one of the very main points that made the book interesting for me, more than the story itself. The way she tells tales of each of the characters past and present, building an image for the reader and tweaking that very image every now and then with twists here and there makes the book a delightful read. Even the supporting characters are so well described with their own niceties and imperfections, that it was easy to connect and see everyone’s point of view before entirely falling in love with, or hating any given personality.

The one point that left me unsatisfied about the book was the narrators of the story, whose identity is a mystery way until the last few chapters. I couldn’t quite come to appreciate the style of narration. I found that it quite unusual and somewhat hard, at times to follow. I did get used to it by the end, but I still couldn’t appreciate the parts where the narrators speak to the readers directly in parts of novels asking the reader’s thoughts about the story, character and what not.

Overall, I would recommend this heavy morbid tale revolving around the divide between rich and poor, the cholera outbreak more for its characters than the plot itself.

My rating: 3*.

*for the rating scale, click here.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ by Stieg Larsson is the first book in the Millennium Trilogy. Industrialist Henrik Vanger hires journalist Mikael Blomkvist to investigate the past of the Vanger family under the pretense of writing a book on the family chronicles. However, the real reason is that he wants Blomkvist to investigate the Vanger family due to the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, his grand-niece, several years ago. Vanger is certain she has been murdered. And by a family member.

Blomkvist is not keen on taking on the case but does so despite his better judgement because he is offered a bone…information on a tycoon who ended up suing Blomkvist for libel for an article on him in his magazine, Millennium. Henrik Vanger prior to hiring Blomkvist, had him checked out by Lisbeth Salander, a freelance private investigator for Milton Security. Lisbeth is not your average 25 year old woman. Not the most social person on the planet, she has her ways and means of finding out information about the people she is employed to do so. A number of tattoos on her body, a mysterious past and a demeanour where she will not let anybody get emotionally close to her, she remains an intriguing person. Blomkvist later employs her services to assist him with research on the Vanger family.

While Blomkvist initially has no illusions about being able to find a murderer…even if there was one…from almost 40 years ago, he realises that he has stumbled into something possibly quite sinister as his life is threatened. He is obviously closing in on someone and so begins a roller coaster of a ride.

What did happen to Harriet Vanger all those years ago?

Was she murdered? And if so why?

Who in the Vanger family is responsible for this?

And again, why did they want her dead?

Does her death or disappearance have anything to do with some other deaths in Sweden back then?

All these questions and so many more make it an entertaining and gripping tale. It is definitely a page-turner and keeps you guessing about the whys and the whats and the whos and the hows. Just as a thriller should. I got through the book in a couple of days just because I was unable to put it down. The characters are quite interesting although I will admit I couldn’t really empathise with them much. Salander is an intriguing character for sure and you want to know more about her and how she manages to gather such detailed and yet private information about people. Most of her past is not revealed and keeps you wanting to know more.

All in all, a great thriller which also manages to give you chills down your spine on certain occasions. I rate it a 4.

Until next time,