Prior to the second world war, my grandmother was a lady’s maid in a grand house in the Nottinghamshire countryside. The daughter of a coalminer, she achieved this position, with its travel to London for the season and summer holiday’s on the Dorset coast, by winning a needlework competition. Her winning entry caught the fine Lady’s eye and my great grandparents were asked if she could go ‘into service’. As a 14-year-old, this must have been a daunting proposition. My grandmother certainly became a modern woman, working as a bus conductress in the war and running a ‘chippy’ after. Following the death of her husband in her 50’s, she returned to working with textiles, becoming a cutter and examiner in a local factory. She was always interested in fashion, never went out without her hair done or her ‘lippy’. I hope to emulate her style, love of travel, independence and joy in life through the rest of mine, especially once I get vaccinated and liberated!
These reminiscences bring me to this month’s final review, its The Dressmaker of Paris by Georgia Kauffmann published by Hodder & Stoughton (www.hodder.co.uk) on the 28th January. This is the story of Rosa Kusttatscher, born in the mountains of Italy and who is forced to flee during the war to Switzerland following a traumatic event. Having discovered a skill and interest in fashion, she moves to Paris. Here as well as developing he career, she finds love. Moving to Brazil, she experiences both tragedy and success. When we meet her in New York, she has found peace and happiness. Her past haunts her still. She has spent a life running, she realises. But now she will run no more.
Each chapter begins with a short vignette about her preparations for an important meeting Rosa is going to. She explains some aspect of her toilette or appearance to the reader in a chatty, informative way. We do not know whom she is addressing, as she just refers to the person as ‘ma chere’ Thereafter, Rosa remembers a period of her life and gradually, through the book, we learn her life story. Usually, the beauty advice related in some way to the period or event that was discussed. I like these thoughtful markers at each new point in the story. They were useful in tying the parts together and reminding you of the mystery surrounding her appointment that day.
I enjoyed this book immensely. There was always a sense of drama. The wartime scenes were well portrayed. I enjoyed learning a little fashion history during the Paris period. I must admit my favourite portion was the American section and her final marriage. It was lovely, romantic and rather unexpected. I don’t usually like books with beautiful, brilliant women who are too perfect, but Rosa had enough flaws and experienced enough troubles to have me rooting for her. I’m not a chick lit fan either but this had enough grit, history and great characters to keep me enthralled. It was a book I looked forward to picking up at the end of a busy, messy and unfashionable day!
This the debut novel of English author Georgia Kaufmann (www.georgiakaufmann.com).After studying Social Anthropology and Demography in Cambridge, she travelled widely, living in numerous places beginning with the letter B, Brussels, Brighton and Boston, to name a few. She now lives within cycling distance of central London with her husband, two daughters and a cat.
This book is a journey through time. The threads of love, loss, fashion, female emancipation and the importance of family were woven deftly into a sweeping story. It can’t be read without a sigh, a few tears and the odd smile. An ideal escape from lockdown woes, I recommend you cut a dash to your local online book supplier now.
Reviewed by Georgina Murphy
This review is part of a blog tour organised by Hodder & Stoughton, to see what the others thought visit their sites listed below. Then, if you get a copy comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d really love the feedback.