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?
I think I can count the number of historical novels I read so far on one single hand but after reading The Corset I have absolutely no idea why that is anymore. I enjoyed this novel so much! I was truly fascinated by the setting and Ruby’s job as seamstress. Laura Purcell was able to transport me to another era with her detailed and atmospheric writing and although life then was indeed bleak and dreary for many, as I imagined it would be in that Jack The Ripper time-period, the writing and the characters were anything but that. I was hooked right from the start and the whole reading experience was positively amazing!
At first sight the two women in this novel couldn’t be more different from each other as they both had a vastly different upbringing and while one has a sad and tragic life and it resulted for 16-year old Ruby in awaiting trial, 25-year old Dora (Dorothea) is used to a much different lifestyle with a servant following her every move and at her beck and call. Dora doesn’t really ‘work’ but spends her time visiting women at the Oakgate prison so she can subject them to her phrenology hypotheses. She believes that if they change inside then the shape of their head, the areas responsible for their crimes, change too and this can be measured physically. It’s how she meets Ruby and she’s eager to subject her to her theories.
The title of the novel is so enormously apt for this book because it goes far and beyond the sewing of a corset in the novel… it is also a most fitting metaphor for the position of both women in society, whether rich or poor they both don’t have a lot of room to be free and live their life at their heart’s content. The corset itself is an important object though and Ruth’s talent for sewing takes a very unsettling and mysterious turn when she claims she can kill people through her stitches.
The Corset kept me addicted and although I liked how Dora’s entries were a welcome salvation from all the tragedy happening, I have to admit that I was slightly more drawn to Ruby’s account of events, it was quite an emotional and detailed story with one tragedy happening upon another, which made it virtually impossible not to grow fond of her. Why did she do it and most of all is she really responsible for murdering someone? As the story progressed and it moved in a certain direction I had a sense of a possible motive but the question still remained if she really had the power to inflict pain and death with her stitches or not. It was wondrous to find out if her vengeance on the people who weren’t kind to her was inflicted by herself or not. I’m really not a fan of anything supernatural or impossible happening but this uncertainty was very well-developed and it most definitely will keep every reader busy to find an answer to its true nature. I was soon hoping for some divine intervention so that Ruby could be free and finally live a good life because she really wasn’t a murderer to me.
The novel didn’t lose its grip on me till the end with so many unforeseen events. It surprised me countless times with plenty of twists and turns and the ending was brilliant!
I was able to read a free copy of this novel through The Pigeonhole website and this is my honest opinion.