The Corset

The Corset

The new Victorian chiller from the author of Radio 2 Book Club pick, The Silent Companions.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...

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Title:The Corset
Author:Laura Purcell
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Corset Reviews

  • Callum McLaughlin

    An intricately plotted and thematically rich gothic chiller; this was just the kind of read I was in the mood for.

    As with the best of its genre, there is an undercurrent of mystery and threat that brews throughout. In this case, it centres around whether or not we can trust Ruth Butterham, a 16-year-old seamstress accused of murder, who claims to possess some kind of supernatural ability. Is she telling the truth; is she lying; or is she simply mad? And perhaps more importantly, if she is a kill

    An intricately plotted and thematically rich gothic chiller; this was just the kind of read I was in the mood for.

    As with the best of its genre, there is an undercurrent of mystery and threat that brews throughout. In this case, it centres around whether or not we can trust Ruth Butterham, a 16-year-old seamstress accused of murder, who claims to possess some kind of supernatural ability. Is she telling the truth; is she lying; or is she simply mad? And perhaps more importantly, if she is a killer, what could have driven her to it?

    At face value, this is a real page-turner; I flew through the whole thing in just a few sittings, transported into Ruth's bleak world, and utterly invested in the outcome of her harrowing story. Beneath the surface, however, the book explores the horror of poverty, as well as the notion of trauma and survivor's guilt (with Ruth displaying signs of what we would now recognise as PTSD). It is also a scathing criticism of the class system, and lack of female autonomy.

    I can see some people being grabbed more by Ruth's sections of the narrative than Dorothea's (as I myself was), but I think the latter's point-of-view chapters are necessary for several reasons: They serve as breathing space, helping to break up the often brutal events in Ruth's life; they remind us to constantly call into question how reliable Ruth is as a narrator, by adding an outward perspective; and they allow for interesting thematic parallels to emerge with regards to gender and class. Ruth’s lack of money or social standing leave her obviously powerless from the start. Whilst Dorothea, for all her family's wealth, undoubtedly has the more comfortable life, it becomes increasingly clear that she too lacks control over her own future, being unable to marry the man she loves due to him being of a lower class, and standing to lose her inheritance should her widowed father remarry. It’s because the two narratives run side-by-side, and increasingly weave together, that the title and imagery of

    work so well; symbolising the restrictive, stifling, and even painful nature of womanhood, regardless of class or the outward appearance of freedom.

    Things unravel brilliantly as the plot reaches its climax, with well-placed twists, and moments throughout the book that are at equal turns poignant and horrifying. Purcell maintains, for me, the perfect amount of ambiguity to leave the reader satisfied, without losing the sinister tone of the book at large.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s debut,

    , but think there is a marked improvement in both the handling of her complex narrative, and the balance of her pacing this time around.

    was an immersive, visceral reading experience when I needed precisely that, making Purcell an author I am very excited to continue following in the future.

  • Cora ☕ Tea Party Princess

    Content Warnings: Child abuse, difficult pregnancy, graphic violence.

    I'd read a few reviews prior to picking up The Corset, so I was ready for a dark book. Or so I thought. But The Corset was far darker than I had imagined.

    The writing and the story are addictive. I could not put this book down. The story is told by Dorothea's present narrative and Ruth's reflection on her past as she tells her story. I have t

    Content Warnings: Child abuse, difficult pregnancy, graphic violence.

    I'd read a few reviews prior to picking up The Corset, so I was ready for a dark book. Or so I thought. But The Corset was far darker than I had imagined.

    The writing and the story are addictive. I could not put this book down. The story is told by Dorothea's present narrative and Ruth's reflection on her past as she tells her story. I have to say that of the two narrators, Ruth was my favourite. She goes through so much but still feels so strongly, she was so well developed. I really felt for her.

    The Corset explored the power of hate and anger and manipulation. It examines humanity with a dark gaze, with a need for revenge pressing in from all sides of the story. It is chilling.

    This is the perfect Gothic horror, full of twists and turns and an "is it supernatural?" undercurrent. It is dark and unsettling and shocking, and as a reader I loved that I had the choice to believe in the supernatural. It is brooding and at all times I had this sense of dread - who would be next? Does she really have the power? Will they be OK?

    The ending of The Corset was exceptional. Although it did pan out rather how I'd guessed at the beginning, I was still completely shocked by it. Mouth agape shocked. The writing is truly masterful.

  • Liz Barnsley

    My gosh, The Corset was such a cool, edgy and randomly horrifying tale, such descriptive beauty to be found here wrapped around a story that is both scary and entirely emotive.

    Dorothea visits women in jail – she is sensible, pragmatic and intelligent, using the visits to gain knowledge for her scientific research. But when she meets Ruth, whose life has been dark and twisted, who believes she holds within her a terrible power, Dorothea slowly begins to question all that she once believed..

    I love

    My gosh, The Corset was such a cool, edgy and randomly horrifying tale, such descriptive beauty to be found here wrapped around a story that is both scary and entirely emotive.

    Dorothea visits women in jail – she is sensible, pragmatic and intelligent, using the visits to gain knowledge for her scientific research. But when she meets Ruth, whose life has been dark and twisted, who believes she holds within her a terrible power, Dorothea slowly begins to question all that she once believed..

    I loved this. The mystery of the truth behind Ruth’s case is so cleverly woven, at the same time we get a horrifying and authentic glimpse at the social hierarchy of the time –  the abyss between those that have and those that have not, the casual cruelty inflicted on the lower classes, the lack of choices for women of any circumstance. Dorothea’s story is just as absorbing as Ruth’s, the challenges she faces are also many. Danger lurks around every corner and The Corset is both a delightful and an emotionally challenging read.

    This is visceral, heart stopping writing, totally absorbing the reader, a darkly unsettling undertone runs throughout and doesn’t loosen it’s grip until that very last page – not even then really, there are certain scenes in this novel that will never leave me.

    The brilliant plotting and the author’s ability to immerse you into the story meant that I was randomly blindsided on occasion, which was hugely satisfying, when I actually don’t expect the unexpected it’s the icing on the reading cake for me.

    Brilliant from opening to closing, The Corset is incredible. What else can I say?

    Highly Recommended.

  • Amalia Gavea

    Jesus Christ, this book...Where do I begin? After the outstanding

    , Laura Purcell creates a story that is dark, haunting, atmospheric, mysterious and complex. So different to his successful predecessor and yet equally powerful and agonizingly intense.

    will surely enter the lists of the best reads of 2018, arriving just in t

    Jesus Christ, this book...Where do I begin? After the outstanding

    , Laura Purcell creates a story that is dark, haunting, atmospheric, mysterious and complex. So different to his successful predecessor and yet equally powerful and agonizingly intense.

    will surely enter the lists of the best reads of 2018, arriving just in time for the spookiest part of the year.

    Dorothea is a young woman, born in the upper English society, aiming at comforting the women convicts in the Oakgate Prison. It is there that she meets Ruth, a sixteen-year-old girl, accused of vile murders, awaiting her trial. Dorothea is drawn to Ruth’s story because the young seamstress doesn’t claim she’s innocent. She is convinced that her hands led to the death of a number of people, through her stitches. Her unique ability as a seamstress becomes a murder weapon. Dorothea doesn’t know what to believe and she cannot imagine that Ruth’s story will lead her to doubt everything she’s ever taken for granted in her life and in her family...

    The writing is exquisite. Beautiful in its darkness, raw and haunting. The Victorian era comes alive through the pages in all its grim and dark aspects and the two heroines are marvelously portrayed. Their voices are clearly different, their thoughts reflecting the views of their class and personal experiences. Even if you didn’t read the names at the beginning of each chapter, you would definitely understand whose story you’re reading.

    What creates a special setting in

    ? For me, the combination of certain supernatural factors and an all-too-real harsh social status. The heart of the story lies in a variety of traditions related to sewing. In many Northern European and Slavic traditions, the stitches on a cloak or a chemise were part of a spell to guarantee the safety of the fighting warrior. Think about the scabbard of Excalibur, stitched by Morgaine in

    . In other tales, the stitches were part of ill-wishing and betrayal. Consider Kriemhild and Siegfried’s cloak in the saga of the Nibelungs. In Greece, we believe it is ill fortune to sew clothes while someone’s wearing them. If we can’t help it, we whisper a few words to exorcise the evil that may lead to death. In the old days, we believed that no one should mend your clothes apart from your mother and many men learnt how to sew as a result of this superstition. So, ill wishes while sewing can lead to disaster. A needle and thread can prove lethal and Ruth is convinced of that.

    Another topic that belongs to the paranormal sphere is the pseudo-science of phrenology, one of my favourite ‘’absurd mock-science’’ moments. Phrenology was one of the obsessions of the Victorian age, a study of a human’s skull in an attempt to decipher the character and the inclinations. In an era that nothing would come to surface because of a severe notion of propriety, many tried to see beyond the tangible world and its inhabitants and this is how the frenzy for all things paranormal was born. Dorothea tries to answer the question of evil. What if any evil propensity could be discovered at a young age and eliminated? This is an issue that science still tries to address. Are we born ‘’bad’’ or certain circumstances lead us there?

    Now, these supernatural factors are brilliantly married to the bitter circumstances that influence the two women’s lives. The living conditions and the social status of Dorothea and Ruth are perfectly juxtaposed. Dorothea is a little bit too protected from the dark world and it is through Ruth that her eyes open. She acquires a newfound strength, adding to her own conviction of refusing to become just a wife and a mother. Ruth was forced to meet life face-to-face in cruel ways and we see that both women are actually in a prison of their own. One literally, the other socially.

    The character development is nothing short of outstanding, with Ruth being the most complex character because of her life background and her grim adventures. I loved her as I loved Dorothea to whom I found myself fervently connected. There is a rich cast of secondary characters that are nuanced, some of them likable, others much less so but all with their own part to play in the advancement of this dark story. Sometimes, this is the function of a character and I don’t see why should this be a fault. Whatever.

    I’ve read a multitude of books that fall into the Gothic Fiction genre.

    is on a pedestal among them. So different to

    , equally beautiful in a twisted, dark, sad way. I can’t wait to see what the amazing Laura Purcell has in store for us in the future!

    Many thanks to the PigeonholeHQ and Laura Purcell for the serialized ARC. It’s been a beautiful, excruciatingly agonizing experience in the best possible way. Sharing views in real time with other readers and discovering the writer’s own thoughts in the pages made this reading even more memorable.

    My reviews can also be found on

  • Blair

    Dorothea Truelove (yes, really) is a wealthy young woman who regularly visits female prisoners. While she frames this practice as charity, her true obsession is phrenology. She’s convinced that if she can only find the right subject, her theories about the connections between head shape and character will be proven right, and the women of New Oakgate Prison are the perfect guinea pigs. However, time is running out: Dorothea is 25, and her father is determined to marry her off as soon as possible

    Dorothea Truelove (yes, really) is a wealthy young woman who regularly visits female prisoners. While she frames this practice as charity, her true obsession is phrenology. She’s convinced that if she can only find the right subject, her theories about the connections between head shape and character will be proven right, and the women of New Oakgate Prison are the perfect guinea pigs. However, time is running out: Dorothea is 25, and her father is determined to marry her off as soon as possible – and she must choose a prosperous suitor, not her policeman beau.

    Ruth Butterham is 16 and incarcerated at New Oakgate Prison, awaiting trial for the murder of her mistress. Her story is tragic and often rather gruesome, a tale of poverty, abuse and exploitation. She claims responsibility not only for the murder she stands accused of, but also countless other deaths and unfortunate ‘accidents’; according to her account, she is able to influence others’ fates by sewing garments for them. Could this bizarre claim possibly be true? What is Dorothea to make of the fact that Ruth’s phrenological profile indicates an excellent memory and a propensity for honesty?

    When I first read a summary of

    I felt it sounded similar to Sarah Waters’

    and there is indeed something of Waters about this novel: it alternates between the underbelly of Victorian society and the cosseted existence of a well-off family; there are gothic flourishes and hints of the supernatural, forbidden relationships and obsessive love. Ruth’s account is compelling, while Dorothea’s dark, selfish side makes her far more interesting than she initially appears.

    Towards the end I felt the plot started to trip over itself a bit. After what Ruth had endured at the hands of the Metyards, I found it very difficult to believe she could change her mind about Kate so easily. Also, what we saw of Dorothea’s relationships with David and Thomas was never wrapped up in any meaningful way; it felt like a lot of hints had been dropped here without any resolution, but also no reason for misdirection to be necessary.

    Like Purcell’s debut

    this is a juicy historical novel that keeps you happily hooked from start to finish. Some developments are obvious from the beginning; others are more enjoyable to tease out. There’s a satisfying ending, too. Despite a smattering of flaws, overall

    is great fun.

    The Corset

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  • Hannah

    I got retroactive FOMO for Laura Purcell’s novel The Silent Companions because everybody seemed to be raving about it, so I knew I needed to read this one. Especially because it focuses on two women, one of them being a prisoner on trial for murder. I love books featuring unapologetically difficult women and Ruth and Dorothea definitely fit the bill.

    Dorothea Truelove is a young, unmarried woman, with plenty of suitors who would rather spend her time doing charity work (do not take her to be a ki

    I got retroactive FOMO for Laura Purcell’s novel The Silent Companions because everybody seemed to be raving about it, so I knew I needed to read this one. Especially because it focuses on two women, one of them being a prisoner on trial for murder. I love books featuring unapologetically difficult women and Ruth and Dorothea definitely fit the bill.

    Dorothea Truelove is a young, unmarried woman, with plenty of suitors who would rather spend her time doing charity work (do not take her to be a kind person though, she really is not). She is most interested in prisons, as she has a strongly developed theory of phrenology that she feels the need to prove (which proves my point about her being maybe not the best person). As such, Ruth seems to be the perfect specimen to research for her: Ruth is sixteen and in prison awaiting her trial that will most likely lead to her execution for murder. The story is told in these dual perspectives, where Ruth is telling her story to Dorothea and the reader is along for the ride to figure out whether Ruth truly killed her mistress with her magic needle work.

    For me, this was a really uneven reading experience. While I for the most part really enjoyed Ruth’s perspective and the ambiguity of her story, Dorothea’s part of the book did not work for me (except for the last chapter). Ruth is a compelling character, whose tough and hatred-filled veneer starts to crack the further her story developes. She is still so childlike while being so very broken, it hurt my heart. Dorothea on the other hand with her boring social life and her creepy obsession with phrenology did not quite keep my interest. This might be different for readers from different countries, but for me phrenology itself makes me very uncomfortable. I do not want to read about this and did not realize how obsessive Dorothea would be describing everybody’s skull (there is an in-story reason for this – but it did not change my gut reaction to this).

    Furthermore, I found quite a bit of Ruth’s backstory to toe the line to torture porn, which probably says more about me as a reader than about the book to be honest. I would have liked to have these scenes be a little bit more scarcely used.

    However, I found the ending to be very satisfying – Laura Purcell pulls together the two storylines in a really wonderful way. I was fine with the men’s storylines to be unresolved because in the end – this is a book about Ruth and Dorothea.

    I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing UK / Raven Books in exchange for an honest review.

    You can find this review and other thoughts on books on

  • Emma

    If bad things stared happening to everyone around you, to each and every person you stitched clothing for, it's inevitable that you'd start to wonder whether it might somehow, in some crazy way, be your fault. Maybe you're jinxed. Maybe your hatred and anger and despair somehow infected the material, maybe your bad luck rubs off. Or maybe you did it on purpose? Maybe, if you tried, you could do it again...

    So goes the tale of Ruth Butterham, in prison for murder, her confession of guilt meaning t

    If bad things stared happening to everyone around you, to each and every person you stitched clothing for, it's inevitable that you'd start to wonder whether it might somehow, in some crazy way, be your fault. Maybe you're jinxed. Maybe your hatred and anger and despair somehow infected the material, maybe your bad luck rubs off. Or maybe you did it on purpose? Maybe, if you tried, you could do it again...

    So goes the tale of Ruth Butterham, in prison for murder, her confession of guilt meaning the case is closed before the trial even begins, the death penalty looming in her immediate future. Enter the well-to-do Dorothea, apparently at the prison for charitable works, though actually desperate to prove her ideas about the science of phrenology. What better place to link the patterns of the skull with the immorality and degradation of women in the penal system? Ruth's woeful past is related in flashbacks to Dorothea, whose chapters deal with the current day, and who is, initially at least, dismissive of such supernatural idiocy; Ruth's uncanny abilities seem no more than the product of a superstitious mind. That is, until

    starts to see things that plain thinking just can't explain.

    Following traditional gothic style, the game, of course, is working out who or what you believe- whether the events recounted can be justified by the normal rules of the world or if extraordinary explanations must be sought. Especially difficult when both narrators are far from reliable. Each of the deaths, tragic or well deserved, that could ostensibly be the result of Ruth's deadly stitching are stretched to the extreme in ways that leave them wide open, with the supernatural aspect pushed for the sake of the plot at one point, then human agency at another. The problem I have is that I'm quite willing to believe in both, in literature at least, so I can hold both answers in my mind simultaneously without having to decide on one or the other. The mystery is in the way the author will take it, but I am equally prepared for, and happy with, either or both. If, however, the answers are strongly signalled early on, the climactic build is completely undermined as there's nothing left to wonder. It was completely different in the author's first book,

    , which was one of the best modern pieces of gothic lit I've read: well written, atmospheric, and beyond creepy. Each event was deeply unsettling because it had that genuine possibility of being malicious humanity or something inexplicable. Either way, it was frightening. This has none of that. Other than the horrendous abuse suffered by Ruth during her young life, there's no real horror and no sense of the unexpected. Honestly, so what if she can kill people with her stitching? I'm not getting a gown made any time soon, so i'll be alright, cheers. It's too distant to make you feel anything, it doesn't have enough menace to chill.

    As in the first book, the writing is vibrant, with gothic themes layered throughout. The slowly blooming revenge plot is the best part, twisting through both stories so that the climax is inevitable, but no less pleasing. The clever way it changes one character's perspective, even her very nature, while setting up a kind of reversal for the finale was beautiful to watch. Both women are trapped in their own ways, claustrophobic lives that offer scant chance for personal freedom, but they find their own paths in the end. Even with the aspects that didn't work for me, there's no doubting this author's talent. I won't hesitate to pick up whatever she writes next. But for those who want her best, go for

    .

    ARC via Netgalley

  • Ova - Excuse My Reading

    The Corset was a long awaited book for me, after devouring

    , and I feel extremely lucky to be given the opportunity to read this earlier.

    I wish I could say I liked this book as much as SC but sadly this isn't the case. In general, there is no doubt that Purcell is a skillful story teller and she's done an extensive research to take us back to the times the book is in. However there are some major problems in The Corset that let me down.

    ***After This point, my review contains sp

    The Corset was a long awaited book for me, after devouring

    , and I feel extremely lucky to be given the opportunity to read this earlier.

    I wish I could say I liked this book as much as SC but sadly this isn't the case. In general, there is no doubt that Purcell is a skillful story teller and she's done an extensive research to take us back to the times the book is in. However there are some major problems in The Corset that let me down.

    ***After This point, my review contains spoilers***

    Thanks to NetGalley and Raven books for a copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.

    Full review on the blog soon!

  • Umut Reviews

    This was one of my most anticipated releases of the year, after reading and loving Silent Companions. Unfortunately it fell short of her previous one.

    I really think Purcell is a talented writer with her atmospheric historical settings, creative plots, ability to raise tension. However, she couldn't escape certain pitfalls in this book that some writers often do.

    The Corset was also a Gothic story like Silent Companions with 2 protagonists Ruth and Dotty with intercepting lives. I don't want to

    This was one of my most anticipated releases of the year, after reading and loving Silent Companions. Unfortunately it fell short of her previous one.

    I really think Purcell is a talented writer with her atmospheric historical settings, creative plots, ability to raise tension. However, she couldn't escape certain pitfalls in this book that some writers often do.

    The Corset was also a Gothic story like Silent Companions with 2 protagonists Ruth and Dotty with intercepting lives. I don't want to give spoilers, so I will be very brief with my review :)

    I found the idea in this book very original, even more so than the first book. I loved Dotty and Ruth as characters. However, there were many problems in the plot. In addition, there were too many characters.

    Purcell created a very good suspense at the beginning, but as we moved on in the story, more and more characters were added, the story line became unstructured, sloppy at times. She couldn't tie all ends together as there were too many fronts open.

    I couldn't understand the point of some characters' existence. She spent so much time fiddling around some unimportant characters and events that we lost sight of the main story.

    Yes, people say the end was a surprise, and it was. But, I think because of the side stories and characters, the reader was not allowed a chance to add two and two. I don't appreciate this kind of surprises personally. I'd like to have all the elements in front of me, and still the writer should be able to surprise me.

    Additional comment, there was quite detailed gore in this book, which I'm surprised about. I thought they were totally unnecessary and didn't add much to the story. Plus, it made my stomach cringe.

    In summary, I still enjoyed Purcell's writing, especially parts of the book when there was suspense building. But, there were too many loose ends, too many unreasonable actions from characters, and too many side stories and characters to deal with.

    For those reasons, I gave this book 2.5 stars.

    Thanks to NetGalley and Raven books for a copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.

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