The Dressmaker by Beryl Bainbridge

The dressmaker

Published: 2010 by Abacus
My copy: Borrowed from the Library where I work

Memorable quote: They’re wicked women,’ he said, spitting the words out through puritanical lips, and Rita had believed him. but she knew better now: it wasn’t the money, it was a search for love, the sort she had found with Ira.

Here, Bainbridge takes that age-old scenario of the dangers of falling in love with an idea, rather than a real person, and sets it amidst the ration books, bombed out streets and munitions factories of wartime Liverpool. Seventeen-year-old Rita has had a sheltered upbringing in the house of two very different Aunts: house-proud Nellie, the dressmaker of the title, and the more passionate Margo, a widow and factory worker. When Rita falls in love with an American soldier her unsuitable passion stirs some long held grudges between the two older women and as the attraction becomes more serious (on Rita’s side at least) the two Aunts are forced into action.

Although this is a short novel it is surprisingly dense and as well as providing a convincingly detailed snap-shot of civilian life during World War Two, it also deals with some chilling psychological issues, building up to a very powerful finale. Not my favourite Bainbridge novel by any means but definitely worth a look.

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