I thoroughly enjoyed Purcell’s The Silent Companions and found it satisfyingly creepy, perfect for this time of year. So when The Corset came out in paperback I grabbed it quickly and couldn’t wait to dive in.
To a certain extent it’s as good as TSC but it isn’t without its issues and that main issue for me is the ending. Before I go into that though, a bit about the story. I think the premise itself is brilliant and quite unique.
There have been a few stories in the past about haunted clothing (not that I can name any of them beyond In Fabric, which hasn’t even had the decency to have a proper release yet) but the concept of vindictive embroidery really appeals to me. Imagine putting all your rage and hatred into your work and seeing very tangible results. It’s pure witchcraft and as you know, I’m all about the witch these days, even if it is dark magic.
That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it in my fiction though and I really love the character of Ruth, a young girl sentenced to death for the murder of her mistress. When high society do-gooder Dorothea Truelove takes it upon herself to start visiting Ruth is gaol while she awaits her trial, the whole story of how she came to be a murderess unravels – but is she really as bad as she believes or is she a victim herself?
Dorothea meanwhile has her own agenda, namely the study of phrenology and she really wants to get her hands on Ruth’s skull. She’s also being pressured by her ol’ dad to marry since she’s just turned five and twenty – and should probably get her skates on. Little does he know that she’s in love with a common or garden bobby!
Anyway, we’re here for the darkness, aren’t we? As Ruth embroiders a macabre picture for us we get plenty of that. Bullied and poor, things take a terrible turn when her beloved mother falls pregnant. Ruth is forced to leave school to help her seamstress mum with her workload, particularly a large order for a local dressmaker. When the baby arrives everything changes and Ruth realises she may have a secret power. Does she though or is she simply mad, after years of abuse?
Well, via flashback Ruth fills us in on her sewing skills and the horrible lifestyle to which she quickly becomes accustomed. As the terror grows so does her bitterness and rage – and all that has to go somewhere. I won’t go into it too much but it is a satisfying read.
Alongside Ruth’s woes we have the slightly less dramatic issues of Dorothea, whose beauty and class make her seem much less of a victim – but there’s something going on beneath the pristine surface – and maybe she and Ruth aren’t that different after all.
I really enjoyed myself but I did find the climax a little clumsy. It’s not that I didn’t understand it, it’s more that it wasn’t ironed out in quite the same way as the rest of the book and felt rushed. It’s an interesting ending and a good one but it comes at you fast – and it took the book from a solid five to a four in my eyes. Nevertheless, I’m excited for Bone China and I love Purcell’s Gothic hand.
Book details: The Corset
Publisher: Raven Books (2 May 2019)
Bought new paperback for myself