Publication: 20th September 2018 from Raven Books
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?
I do love a good slice of Victorian Gothic, and Laura Purcell’s The Corset is a prime example of the genre. Not for nothing is her Twitter handle @spookypurcell. She beautifully conjures up a Dickensian setting in which the characters take on a sometimes very chilling life of their own.
The Corset is a particularly horrifying tale, wrapped up in the gentility of the rich and then dressed in the garments of respectability, whilst underneath all is rotten and despicable.
Our main protagonists are two women at different ends of the social spectrum. Dorothea Truelove is young and the daughter of a wealthy man. Ruth Butterham (I love these names) is 16, poor and has been exploited all her life. Both women lack freedom of choice in their lives. Dorothea is dependent upon her father for her living and Ruth is in Oakgate Prison for the murder of her erstwhile mistress.
Dorothea is slightly unconventional and is dedicated to good works, such as prison visiting. She also has a somewhat obsessive scientific interest in phrenology and she uses her prison visits to help test out some of her studies. It is while visiting Ruth that she hears first-hand the terrible treatment that Ruth has endured and the darkness that has almost engulfed her completely.
For Ruth is nursing a secret, one that could cost her life and Dorothea cannot help but be drawn to her dark and dreadful story.
I could not help being sucked into this intricately woven story. Beautifully written, full of quite terrifying images, immaculately plotted, this is a tale of immense cruelty and casual indifference to human life. Some of this story is so gruesome that the images that have been created in my head will take a long time to dissipate.
Purcell is an extraordinary storyteller whose writing sucks you into her world and doesn’t let go. The Corset is immersive, propulsive and utterly gripping. Tense, draining and downright freaking scary in places, it is a terrific read.
Verdict: Dark, twisted, authentic and surprising.
About Laura Purcell
Laura Purcell is a former bookseller and lives in Colchester with her husband and pet guinea pigs.
Her first novel for Raven Books THE SILENT COMPANIONS won the WHSmith Thumping Good Read Award 2018 and featured in both the Zoe Ball and Radio 2 Book Clubs. It is followed by THE CORSET in September 2018, and BONE CHINA and THE SHAPE OF DARKNESS in later years.
Laura’s historical fiction novels about the Hanoverian monarchs, QUEEN OF BEDLAM (2014) and MISTRESS OF THE COURT (2015), were published by Myrmidon and are available from all book retailers.
Follow Laura on Twitter @spookypurcell