Friday, 17 August 2018

Review for The Corset by Laura Purcell

The Corset by Laura Purcell 
Publisher: Raven Books
Release: 20th September 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction, Adult Fiction, Gothic Fiction
Source: Proof copy received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

"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?"

In a Victorian prison for women, teenager Ruth Butterham is awaiting execution for the most peculiar of crimes. Ruth claims she can kill with intent through her sewing, cursing her pieces as she stitches so that the wearer of her garments meets an untimely death. Is Ruth really a murderer or just mad? As Dorothea Truelove, an eccentric young heiress with a morbid fascination for murder sits with Ruth day after day and listens to her story unfold she begins to question everything she thought she knew about science, fate and those who kill.

I fell in love with Laura Purcell’s writing last year when I read her debut novel The Silent Companions and was highly anticipating her follow up The Corset. Purcell has a real talent for writing about the strange and the macabre, her books have such an unsettling atmosphere about them. When you’re reading a Laura Purcell book you get so caught up in the uneasy sensation of wrongness that makes her novels so deliciously dark and impossible to put down.

The book is told in a dual narrative between Ruth and Dorothea with Ruth’s chapters relaying her past, and Dorothea’s reflecting on Ruth’s case. I must admit that although the dual narrative worked well I much preferred Ruth’s chapters and was always impatient to get back to her story. I came to care deeply about Ruth in a way I wasn’t anticipating. Her past is horrifying to read about, and I so badly wanted to wrap her up in cotton wool and get justice for her.

Whilst The Silent Companions was spooky The Corset is a different sort of read and feels more disturbing than scary compared to its predecessor. However, both books have the same unique paranormal element to them that makes them stand out against your typical gothic horror stories. The Corset looks at the idea of curses, intention and magical thinking asking the question can we really hurt others with our thoughts alone? It’s a question I puzzled over whilst reading Ruth’s story right up to the final page.

The Corset is an absolute blighter of a book that’s screaming to be adapted into a BBC series. The brooding atmosphere, nuanced characters and lingering sense of dread is gripping stuff and perfect for autumn reading. Laura Purcell is the queen of gothic chillers and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

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