Revenge of the Bully VictimNovember 10, 2015

Everyone knows anyone in a small town. In fact, they know each other too well. Familiarity breeds contempt.

"The Dressmaker" was Rosie Ham's first novel. The author based her premise from her childhood, while growing up in Jerilderie, a small town near the border of New South Wales and Victoria. But the book could be classified as Gothic fiction. Readers must not look for a Medieval castle, as Dungatar is an arid farmland not far from Melbourne. The ghosts of the past would haunt the residents, though.

If you can't beat them, then dress them

The events took place in 1951. Myrtle "Tilly" Dunnage returned to Dungatar to take care of her mentally ill mother. The inhabitants didn't like it, as this brought back unpleasant memories that happened fifteen year ago.

Tilly was a bastard child. And she was bullied by the town children. Stewart Pettyman cornered her and intended to charge head-down at her, but she stood aside at the last moment. The young lad hit the wall instead. He broke his neck and died on the spot. Tilly was sent away. She had her dressmaking education in Melbourne and then trained by Madeleine Vionnet in Paris. The townsfolk were stunned by her transformation. She became an expert on haute couture, and she intended to use it against them.

Four fabrics

Ham divided the story into four sections, representing four different fabrics, namely gingham, shantung, felt and brocade.

Gingham is fine yard, where there's neither right nor wrong side on colour. Shantung is silk fabric often used in bridal gowns. Felt is as old as time, as Sumerian legends claim Urnamman to discover it. Brocade was the fabric used by the nobility in Greece and Byzantium. It's not difficult to figure out that these fabrics represent different emotions. It can also be morals, even hypocrisy.

"The Dressmaker" is a satire on the narrow-mindedness of small-town inhabitants. Ham exaggerated everything, which would make an entertaining novel. After all, Gothic fiction uncovers the unpleasant side of readers. And they could have guilty pleasure. In Tilly's case, culture would intimidate the womenfolk. It turned them into fashion victims. The young lady relished it, but she forgot something. You can take a girl out of the town, but you can't take the town out of a girl.

Success won't be the best revenge

It didn't take long for Tilly to think and act like a small-town girl. And she would hate herself for it. "Macbeth" happened to be her favourite play, and she thought of a wicked plan. This was her only way to get over the traumatic events.

Ham didn't hold back in the final chapters, which would surprise readers. Tilly made clothes for the womenfolk of the neighbouring town. A town-based rivalry followed, which would delight Richard Blackwell. Murder was not part of Tilly's scheme, but it was close to it.

The intense heat might have get into their skin. They would see Stewart's spirit if they didn't pay too much attention on the clothes they ordered from Tilly. It was evil under the sun.

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