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The dress lodger
Sheri Holman
Adult Fiction HOLMAN

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From Publishers' Weekly:

Scrawny and tough, only 15, Gustine is the heartrending protagonist of Holman's brilliantly stark portrayal of 19th-century urban life, class warfare, cruel medicine and encroaching pestilence in the English city of Sunderland. With remarkable breadth and depth, the narrative vividly portrays the human suffering spawned by the early Industrial Revolution. Inhabitants of city slums endure oozing sores, infections, liceÄnot to mention the devastating cholera morbus making its lethal way through Sunderland's population. Gustine works two jobs to support her beloved illegitimate infant, who was born with his heart outside his chest cavity. By day she's a potter's assistant, but to earn enough to live, by night she walks the streets wearing an expensive, elegant blue gown supplied by her pimp/landlord as a ploy to attract higher-class tricks. Pimp Whilky Robinson employs a deaf-mute, one-eyed old woman to follow Gustine constantly, to protect the dress, his treasured investment. Gustine hates the old woman, called "The Eye," but cannot shake this all-seeing symbol of mortality and fate ("Does not old age always dog youth? Does not monstrosity forever shadow beauty?"). Seeking medical help for her ailing child, Gustine strikes up an alliance with surgeon and anatomist Dr. Henry Chivers. The doctor needs corpses for dissection and since Gustine stumbles upon plenty of dead bodies in her night work, she becomes a resource for the ambitious, depraved doctor. The cholera epidemic, graphically and tirelessly described, entwines the lives of the doctor and Gustine, even as Dr. Chivers grows reckless in the resurrection business, eventually inviting violent retribution by impoverished citizens who discover their loved ones' pauper-graves exhumed. Holman (A Stolen Tongue) delivers a wealth of morbid, authentic detail, as well as an emotional pivot in her captivating Moll Flanders-like heroine. The major characters are buttressed by a vivacious cast of minors: Whilky's cowed daughter, Pink; a troupe of traveling thespians; pawnbrokers; rat catchers; and sailors. Holman's style is risky and direct, treating scenes of Gustine's quick, humiliating back-alley couplings as well as the doctor's hypocritical sleaze, with unflinching emotional precision. This dazzlingly researched epic is an uncommon read. Agent, Molly Friedrich. 40,000 first printing; BOMC and QPB selections. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

An obtrusive, all-seeing narrator tells the story of a young prostitute and her alliance with an ambitious doctor in an old-fashioned, Victorian-style mystery. In the first two tapes, the listener is led in a seemingly random fashion around Sunderland, while the storyteller experiments with how to start the tale. Eventually, the plot thickens into a struggle for life in the midst of death, disease, and deprivation. Gustine, the Dress Lodger, moves between poverty in her own ragged clothing and prosperity when she dons the beautiful blue dress. She is a prisoner in both worlds, but her indomitable spirit will carry her out of both. The horror builds and comes to a satisfying d?nouement. Nadia May as narrator effects a husky, raw, thick voice that seems part of the mud, the plague of frogs, and the cholera epidemic. Warm and sympathetic, cold and impartial, or frightened and gasping, May's voice reflects effectively the characters' prejudices, fears, and determination to survive. The 15-year-old Dress Lodger has a high, childlike voice, yet it holds an underlying tenacity. For most collections, but for a select group of listeners. Juleigh Muirhead Clark, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Lib., Colonial Williamsburg Fdn., VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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more titles about

main characters Gustine
Age: 15
Unwed mother

Henry Chiver
Implicated in a body snatching scandal.

Audrey Place
Idealistic; progressive; Henry's fiancee.

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