Before this year I wasn’t really a fan of historical fiction but 2019 has seen me raving over some great stories like The Familiars, The Binding and the wonderful The Silent Companions. The Corset is the latest book by Laura Purcell and if you’re looking for a traditionally gothic Victorian novel you won’t be disappointed.
Dorothea Truelove is a wealthy heiress but dedicates all of her spare time to her charitable works. With a keen interest in the newly emerging “science” of Phrenology she is a dedicated follower of the theories of brain and character reading. Franz Joseph Gall believed that as the skull takes its shape from the brain, the surface of the skull can be read as an accurate index of psychological aptitudes and tendencies.
When Dorothea’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she finds herself drawn to Ruth, a teenage seamstress – and self-confessed murderess – who nurses a dark and uncanny secret. A secret that is leading her straight to the gallows. As Ruth reveals her disturbing past to Dorothea, the fates of these two women entwine, and with every revelation, a new layer of doubt is cast…
The chapters alternate between Dorothea’s work at the prison and her attempts to avoid being married off by her father to an eligible potential husband and those that tell Ruth Butterham’s story. A tale of poverty, desperation and abuse. Ruth is in prison awaiting a trial for the murder of her mistress. It soon becomes clear that Ruth believes that she has harmed or murdered a number of people through her needlework almost as if she is some kind of witch.
The Corset is a true Victorian gothic horror with a Dickensian appreciation of the lower and working classes. It deals with some terrible situations including infant mortality, slavery, cruelty, abuse and murder. Some of the scenes depicted are not for the faint hearted but it never feels like it has been overdone and all of the characters are achingly realistic. This is a book that I simply couldn’t put down and as the book drew to its chilling climax I really didn’t want it to end.
UK Publication Date: May 2 2019. 416 pages.
Prolific reader, enthusiastic theatre and movie-goer and ex-Olivier Awards judge who spent twenty years working in the music industry in London. I love sharing my favourite books with friends - nearly always spoiler-free as I hate reading a synopsis of the whole book in other reviews.