Opening sentence: “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.”
I am not being hyperbolic when I say that I adored every single page of this book. The Corset contained all the elements I personally love in a story; intrigue around the lead characters, a murder mystery, unexpected emotional twists and an ending that leaves you closing the book wishing there were more pages to read. Towards the middle it was just so good that I was worried it couldn’t possibly keep up the pace until the last page – but imagine my delight when it bloody well did!
OK, now that I’ve bigged this up, I’d better tell you a little about it… The Corset is a dark Victorian tale told from the point-of-view of two women: 16-year-old Ruth Butterham, accused of murder and in prison awaiting her trial and 25-year-old Dorothea Truelove, a wealthy, compassionate woman who visits prisoners as part of her charity work. As Ruth tells Dorothea her story we learn the circumstances that brought her to her current situation; seamstress Ruth has had an unsettling life, but the thing is, she believes that she responsible for many deaths due to a dark power she possesses. She makes herself a corset and it moulds itself to her body so much (and has such an uncontrollable hold over her) that she can’t get it off. Ruth also sees a cause and effect pattern in other garments she has stitched (mainly, someone dies.) Dorothea is educated and intelligent and has a rational take on what Ruth tells her: “Ruth, buffeted by disaster after disaster, sought to give her suffering a meaning by attributing it to a supernatural power. Well, that is my theory, at any rate.” So, is Ruth delusional and confused, or is something else really happening?
I knew that this was a Gothic read before I started, but The Corset takes things to a far, far more sinister (and sometimes gruesome) place than I anticipated; another reason it was so tantalisingly brilliant. Like the corset Ruth wears, this story grabs you around the middle and does not stop squeezing; I’d only got to page 100 and already felt emotionally weak from events.
The writing is superb; you are truly transported to Victorian London, as well as becoming so involved in the characters lives; you care for them and it’s visceral when they are treated badly. If you are a fan of The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton, in tone and atmosphere it reminded me a little of that, or if you love Gothic, twisty historical fiction then add this to your TBR immediately. Have you already read The Corset? Let me know as I’m dying to discuss it!