This is the second of Purcell’s novels I have read and it has certainly taken my breath away-even more so than The silent Companions did!
Dorothea, or Dotty, lost her mother at young age to an illness she didn’t understand as a child. She has undertaken the charitable role of being part of a board which oversees the funding and raising of a woman’s prison and often visits prisoners with keen interest to fuel her hunger for knowledge within the science of Phrenology (the process of observing and feeling the skull to determine a person’s psychological attributes) and it is within this role that she meets Ruth Butterham- a seamstress apprentice turned house maid who is condemned for murder by accusation and by her own admission.
And so Ruth’s own sorrowful tale is told and we see her bullied in school, taken out of education to financially support her family as it grows only to then heart achingly and suddenly diminish, on to an “apprenticeship” where she and the other girls are abused in the foulest of ways, we see Ruth fight for the life of her only true friend only to lose the battle, we see someone Ruth could have loved marry another and then we follow her journey as she tries to live freely and seek revenge in the slowest of ways.
The book also allows us to see Dotty’s journey- her love for police constable David, her love for her father who loudly believes that she is becoming an embarrassment owing to being 25, unmarried and dallying with science and all things looked down upon in decent society (the same belief he had of her mother’s path) and a future engagement of bother herself and father.
It isn’t until the last few chapters when Dotty allows us to acknowledge that events weren’t Ruth’s fault and we see the court trial that we put together the pieces of Dotty’s own puzzle alongside Ruth’s. And by the time the reader fully understands and has the whole picture, it’s too late for Ruth and the future of Dotty is not known to us as the book ends on a cliffhanger.
I LOVED this book and literally read until my eyes couldn’t take anymore, then went to bed and read more the following day and the day after until the last page was turned. Everything about this book enthralled me, enticed me and absorbed me in to the pages. The writing style was just perfect- we had chapters from Ruth’s point of view written as if she were speaking or writing to Dorothy, and we had chapters from Dotty which were written in the present tense as events unfolded. The perfect mixture of explaining the past of one girl and living the present of another. The plot was easy and enjoyable to follow, the language was understandable and descriptions of people, places, sounds and smells were so good it was as if you were right there alongside the characters.
The first book of Purcell I read was The Silent Companions three years ago. I liked the book a lot but found it very eery, and enough so that it gave me a singular nightmare (the second book ever to do so) when I didn’t expect it to! It made me a little nervous of picking up The Corset, because really in 2020 I could do without the added extra nightmares and disrupted sleep! But I’m so very glad that I did because while this book had far less of the frightening and obvious variety of the supernatural, it was just floating on the surface and when I reached the end, I realised I had been reading a thriller and more of a murder mystery than a paranormal scare fest.
I hadn’t planned on reading Bone China (Purcell’s other novel) however I now feel that I simply must and urgently! This was the perfect book to showcase Purcell’s skills and I simply can’t wait to see what she brings us next!