Is prisoner Ruth Butterham mad or a murderer? Victim or villain?
Dorothea and Ruth. Prison visitor and prisoner. Powerful and powerless. Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder.
When Dorothea’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted with the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person’s skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes. But when she meets teenage seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another theory: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread. For Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches.
The story Ruth has to tell of her deadly creations – of bitterness and betrayal, of death and dresses – will shake Dorothea’s belief in rationality and the power of redemption.
Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer?
At the time of writing this review Goodreads have rated this as 4.33 out of 5
20th September 2018 aka TODAY by Raven Books
My sainted mother taught me the seven acts of corporeal mercy: to feed the hungry; refresh the thirsty; clothe the naked; shelter the traveller; comfort the sick; visit those imprisoned; and bury the dead. Most of these we undertook together, while she lived. Then Papa and I buried her, so that was another one checked off the list.
I received a copy of this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This is the second novel following author, Laura Purcell’s debut, ‘The Silent Companions’ which happened to be a book that I binge read in one sitting. That wouldn’t have been so bad if I wasn’t supposed to have been doing a buddy read of it!
I, like many others, found ‘The Silent Companions,’ well written, cleverly crafted and engaging. As usual my review is pending (that should be my actual tagline in life) and I gave it 3 stars.
It was almost a 4 star review but not quite. It was a ‘not quite’ because the more I thought on it the more some of the events didn’t quite smooth themselves over in my overactive brain. But please don’t think a 3 star review is a bad thing. It’s not. I’m beginning to worry that people think it is. A 3 star review means that I enjoyed something very much and I’m glad I read it but that either some of it wasn’t 100% my cup of tea or that it was enjoyable in the way that cake is…delicious to consume but with no nutritional value.
So far, from the reviews that I have read of The Corset, the impression that I’m getting is that people like it but they don’t love it as much as they loved The Silent Companions.
What do I think, you ask?
The Corset is also well written, cleverly crafted and engaging and as I actually enjoyed it more than The Silent Companion’s it gets 4 shining stars from me!
Why did I enjoy it more?
I’m truly worried that I enjoy suffering. This story is filled with suffering and people doing horrible things to others and both are sometimes described in gory, visceral detail. But it’s all very Victorian, all very Gothic (which I like) and I also enjoyed the ‘maybe magic, maybe mundane’ approach to a character that (maybe) inflicts pain on others through her own feelings as she sews their clothes.
I also clearly like stories about murderesses if my opinion of Alias Grace is to be counted.
The Corset does have a slight ‘Alias Grace’ feel to it. In Alias Grace, a male doctor (Simon) who has an interest in psychiatry meets with Grace, our possible murderess, to dig into her past in an attempt to understand why she killed her employers. Or if she did. Grace tells us (through him) her story and we also get Simon’s own story woven into events.
In The Corset, a female aristocrat (Dorothea) who has an interest in phrenology meets with Ruth, our possible murderess, to dig into her past (and feel her skull) in an attempt to understand why she killed her employer. Ruth tells us (through Dorothea) her story and we also get Dorothea’s own story woven into events.
Hmm. Similar vibe. But I clearly like this approach so I guess I wouldn’t say that I’m too bothered.
This approach does rely on both characters having meaningful interaction and also relies on both stories being interesting. For me, this doesn’t necessarily fully work here. Ruth and Dorothea’s interactions are surface level until the end and Dorothea’s interest in Ruth is purely from a non-emotional, scientific viewpoint.
Also for me, Ruth’s story is far more interesting than Dorothea’s. Ruth’s kept me engaged all the way through while Dorothea’s only really became interesting towards the end when suddenly hidden truth’s from her own life come into play.
The other issue I had with Dorothea’s story were the loose characters. There were a few that felt superfluous to requirements and whose ending was never resolved. For example Dorothea was in love with David, a policeman. We know nothing about David and meet him occasionally and so never really feel what Dorothea claims to feel.
David seemed to serve less as a character and more of a plot device to show that Dorothea didn’t want to marry someone of her father’s choosing. The reason given was that she was already in love. I felt it would have been more valid to state that she, a woman of scientific ambition who craved independence, didn’t want to marry simply because she didn’t want to.
Despite my grumbles, Dorothea and Ruth had incredibly distinctive voices which can be hard for writers to achieve in multiple, first person POV but I felt that it was done successfully and when Dorothea’s story picked up, it picked up.
The writing style is just as good as it was for The Silent Companion’s and it’s clear that the author has talent. I really did find this an interesting read and was invested in the characters (especially Ruth) and wanted to know how this would end.
While I feel like the story itself ends on a whimper rather than a bang, this could also be because I felt I could read another couple of chapters of the story quite happily.
I know I have my gripes but I enjoyed it and (against popular opinion) enjoyed it more than the author’s debut. Again, I’m worried its because I really like stories about murderesses. Is this a problem? Do I have a problem?
Please tell me if this is a problem. Someone needs to check my skull.
Laura Purcell is going to become an auto-buy author of mine. I can just tell.