“I see now that it’s one of the paradoxes of life that if we love it so much that we are frightened of losing it, it can make us live a half-life, too scared to get out there and live whole-heartedly because we have too much to lose.”
To be perfectly honest – I am quite baffled by The Dressmaker’s Gift. It reads as though it is two different novels – one set in Paris during the Second World War, the other set in modern day Paris. It is not unusual for there to be two or more time-periods in historical fiction novels, it is the nature of the genre after all, but I don’t think it really worked here for a few reasons.
If I were to review the part of the book set during the 1940s, I would say that it is good, but not great. I would give it a four, at a push. I was originally worried that this book would be too similar to The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, but I needn’t have worried. The Nightingale is a far superior novel, in my opinion.
My primary issue is that I felt like the author was trying to hit all of the plot points for novels set in France during this time period, without regard for whether it actually made sense. The story felt a bit rushed to me, which is a shame because the characters in this part of the novel were interesting. The pacing felt off; the story started out gradually, and then suddenly the timeline was moving much more quickly. I do think that if there were some minor adjustments to the plot and pacing, this part of the novel could have been great.
On the other hand, the part of the novel set in modern day Paris was, dare I say it, tragic. I feel bad for being so harsh, because I have enjoyed the author’s previous works, but there is no point in lying. For one thing, in this part of the novel the events that took place during the 1940s are meant to be revealed to the character via letters or through the word of someone else who wasn’t there when the events transpired. It honestly doesn’t make any sense – there are some things that are revealed which couldn’t possibly be known by the person telling the story. And, to top it all off, we aren’t shown the letters. I feel that would have actually been interesting. The primary character in this section of the novel, who is the granddaughter of one of the characters from the war-era story, does not serve a purpose. The story that is revealed to her helps her discover some things about herself, which is fine, but this process took up so many pages to the point that I was fed up with it. I was tempted to skip through entire sections, but I resisted the urge.
Deciding whether to give this book a rating of two or three was actually quite the conundrum for me. I ultimately decided to give it a three because it isn’t badly written; the issue I have is with the plot and some of the characters. I do feel that there are much better war-era historical fiction novels out there though. It is a shame though, because I really wanted to like The Dressmaker’s Gift.
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.