Book Review: The Dressmaker’s Secret by Rosalie Ham

The Dressmaker’s Secret…

About the Book:

It is 1953 and Melbourne society is looking forward to coronation season, the grand balls and celebrations for the young queen-to-be. Tilly Dunnage is, however, working for a pittance in a second-rate Collins Street salon. Her talents go unappreciated, and the madame is a bully and a cheat, but Tilly has a past she is desperate to escape and good reason to prefer anonymity.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Farrat and the McSwiney clan have been searching for their resident dressmaker ever since she left Dungatar in flames. And they aren’t the only ones. The inhabitants of the town are still out for revenge (or at least someone to foot the bill for the new high street). So when Tilly’s name starts to feature in the fashion pages, the jig is up. Along with Tilly’s hopes of keeping her secrets hidden…

My Thoughts:

This was a lot of fun, spiky with sarcasm and dripping with dark – sometimes very, very dark! – humour. I wouldn’t recommend reading it though unless you’ve already read The Dressmaker. This is firmly sequel territory and not a whole lot will make sense without the backstory and context offered by the first book.

If you enjoy reading about fashion, particularly design from bygone days, you will relish much of this book. I adore reading about fashion, so these parts were my favourite. I was less interested in the goings on back in Dungatar, they were all mad as cut snakes and I felt the inclusion of this sub-plot resulted in the story being overly busy. Whilst most of the villains in the story had fairly transparent motives, the welfare officer was a puzzle. Overly zealous in his job, he seemed to have a baseless personal vendetta against Tilly and the McSwiney family. With the story jumping all over Melbourne and back to Dungatar, there were a lot of characters to keep track of and many scenes that made my head spin. I also found it a bit on the longish side, to be honest.

This entire novel is outlandish, absurd, slightly horrific, and endlessly entertaining. It didn’t quite measure up to its predecessor, The Dressmaker, but as a way of marking the 20th anniversary of that iconic novel, it’s a worthy salute. I’ll be interested to see if it’s adapted into a film as well, it would be worth it for the fashion alone.


Thanks is extended to Pan Macmillan Australia for providing me with a copy of The Dressmaker’s Secret for review.

About the Author:

Rosalie Ham is the author of four previous books, including the bestselling novels The Year of the Farmer and The Dressmaker, now an award-winning film starring Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Judy Davis and Hugo Weaving. Rosalie was born and raised in Jerilderie, New South Wales, where her family still farm, and now lives in Melbourne, Australia. She holds a master of arts in creative writing and teaches literature.

The Dressmaker’s Secret
Published by Picador Australia
Released on 27th October 2020

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