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.

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One comment on “The Dress Lodger

  1. Hmm sounds interesting. Historical fiction is not my favourite genre but the not knowing the narrator bit till the end has me intrigued…

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