This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
20.09.2018 / Raven Books (Bloomsbury) / Thriller – Historical Fiction / Hardback / 416pp / 978-1408889619
Target Audience: Readers who are for a nuanced tale of murder, circumstance and revenge. Gothic, emotional and haunting.
About The Corset
Is prisoner Ruth Butterham mad or a murderer? Victim or villain?
Dorothea and Ruth.
Prison visitor and prisoner. Powerful and powerless.
Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder.
When Dorothea’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted with the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person’s skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes. But when she meets teenage seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another theory: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread. For Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches.
The story Ruth has to tell of her deadly creations – of bitterness and betrayal, of death and dresses – will shake Dorothea’s belief in rationality, and the power of redemption.
Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer?
Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions was such a surreal and chilling experience that I was eager to get back into LP’s work again as soon as possible. I wasn’t sure what to expect after the ghostly, supernatural feel of TSC but I was glad to see The Corset was rooted more firmly in reality (there is a little dark magic sprinkled in for good measure though). LP has instead gone for the vivid and haunting realities of life along with the dark roads that some individuals find themselves on through no fault of their own. I was captivated by The Corset and I can happily confirm that Laura Purcell has upped her game in every way imaginable. The delivery is both raw and emotional yet curious and pensive at the same time which was an interesting blend of writing styles. Laura Purcell is rapidly becoming my go-to author for bold, haunting stories that explore exceptional metaphors and concepts that paint a vivid picture of how simple it is for our minds to turn on us in times of grief and distress.
The Corset follows an alternating narrative that uncovers interactions between Dorothea Truelove and Ruth Cuttingham. 16 year old Ruth is on trial for murder, awaiting judgement and the death penalty in a cell in New Oakgate Prison. Dorothea is a young, passionate and intellectual woman who pursues charitable and rehabilitative projects instead of submitting to being married off to an unknown suitor, much to her father chagrin. Dora runs New Oakgate for many reasons but the main one is her secret fascination of pseudo-medicinal field of Phrenology (early form of psychology/neuroscience). Dora has many questions about the human mind that she thinks an evil murderer like Ruth might have the answers for, but Ruth needs to share her story of murder first. Ruth spares no details when sharing the true horrors she has witnessed and the unforgiving curse that stains her fingers. As well as all the lives that the Ruth has taken with it.
As Dora hears Ruth’s compelling yet unsettling story, she is stuck between the possibility that Ruth is a devious or deluded youth and the realisation that her story is beginning to make sense in regards to what everyone understands about how the murder occurred. Dora wants to know if this young woman is in fact a cold blooded murderer or if her upbringing caused Ruth to kill out of madness.
The Corset is an intensely dark yet beautifully woven tale of nature vs nurture, rich vs poor and the irrationality we force upon ourselves under the harshest of circumstances. I thoroughly enjoyed the narrative structure and delivery which is why I am doing my best not give anything away. The Corset is full of shocks and surprises so I don’t want to ruin it in any form. Laura Purcell has hit all the right notes when setting out this harrowing tale and there is very little build up before the real depth of the story kicks in. The centre piece of this novel is Ruth’s talent as a seamstress and its avenue as a metaphor for her suffering, anger, love and revenge. LP nailed it perfectly and I was in awe of a subject I had no previous knowledge in. LP clearly invests herself in research and detail and it pays off here ten fold.
In terms of narrative there is a very obvious difference in tone and atmosphere between the two ladies and LP did a great job developing both characters throughout the plot, turning everything on its head superbly. I did struggle a little bit listening to Dora whinge about not wanting to lose her precious inheritance or meet the suitors her father sends her way when Ruth’s story is so soul destroying in comparison. But I get why LP has crafted the story this way and it works really well, especially with the phenomenal ending. Ruth is a great character that had me on edge throughout the read. Never knowing truly if she believes her own words or is manipulating her story to fit her fantasy. Her story alone is worth the time spent reading The Corset. My favourite element had to be the Phrenology side of the story as LP did a great job of including it in a meaningful way. It was fascinating to see how people approached the brain in that time period and how they rationalised people’s behaviour.
The Corset will appeal to a wide audience though do be wary that there are some incredibly harsh themes within that might not sit well with some readers. I also wanted to say that if you didn’t get on with The Silent Companions then I would still recommend trying The Corset any way as it has a totally different range and feel so it is worth exploring as Laura is certainly honing her already impressive story-telling skills. I have no idea where LP will take her craft next but I am excited to see what she has to offer.
About Laura Purcell
Laura Purcell is a former bookseller, she lives in Colchester with her husband and pet guinea pigs. Her first novel for Bloomsbury, The Silent Companions, was a Radio 2 Book Club pick, was selected for the Zoe Ball ITV Book Club and was the winner of the Thumping Good Read Award.