Title: Dressing the Dearloves
Author: Kelly Doust
Published: August 20th 2018
Publisher: Harper Collins Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 4.5 stars
One crumbling grand manor house, a family in decline, five generations of women, and an attic full of beautiful clothes with secrets and lies hidden in their folds. Kelly Doust, author of Precious Things, spins another warm, glamorous and romantic mystery of secrets, love, fashion, families – and how we have to trust in ourselves, even in our darkest of days. One for lovers of Kate Morton, Belinda Alexandra, Fiona McIntosh and Lucy Foley.
Failed fashion designer Sylvie Dearlove is coming home to England – broke, ashamed and in disgrace – only to be told her parents are finally selling their once-grand, now crumbling country house, Bledesford, the ancestral home of the Dearlove family for countless generations.
Sylvie has spent her whole life trying to escape being a Dearlove, and the pressure of belonging to a family of such headstrong, charismatic and successful women. Beset by self-doubt, she starts helping her parents prepare Bledesford for sale, when she finds in a forgotten attic a thrilling cache of old steamer trunks and tea chests full of elaborate dresses and accessories acquired from across the globe by five generations of fashionable Dearlove women. Sifting through the past, she also stumbles across a secret which has been hidden – in plain sight – for decades, a secret that will change the way she thinks about herself, her family, and her future.
Romantic, warm, and glamorous, moving from Edwardian England to the London Blitz to present day London, Dressing the Dearloves is a story of corrosiveness of family secrets, the insecurities that can sabotage our best efforts, and the seductive power of dressing up.
Kelly Doust, the author of Dressing the Dearloves, has a true passion for fashion. Her debut novel has fashion as a focus and she also has quite the collection of non fiction books up her sleeve concerning craft, vintage clothing and fashion. Kelly Doust’s second work of fiction is a gleaming testament to the fashion world, with a particular focus on vintage couture. Combined with a meaningful coming of age story, a cache of family secrets, a crumbling British estate and some romantic complications, Dressing the Dearloves is a novel not to be missed!
It is a dramatic fall from grace for failed fashion designer Sylvie Dearlove. Once the darling of the fashion world, Sylvie returns home to Britain with her tail between her legs. She is broke and her fashion empire is in tatters. When she arrives home, she discovers her family’s estate is in just the same state of disrepair as her life. Her parents also reveal that they have no choice but to sell the family estate, as it continues to sink in debt. As Sylvie joins in the preparations to make Bledesford sale worthy, she discovers a treasure chest of sorts in her family’s attic. There are dresses, outfits and accessories, worn by each generation of the Dearlove women. This is a life changing discovery, as it heralds the transformation of Sylvie and it also signals the revelation of a closely held family secret. Dressing the Dearloves moves effortlessly from present day London, through to the perilous times of the Blitz and the gaiety of the Edwardian times.
I do have a weakness for fashion, mostly dresses and vintage fashion is an area that I find absolutely fascinating. Combining this overall theme with a genuinely compelling story of a young woman’s search for identity, an explosive family secret and the fight to save a struggling British estate, I knew I was going to love Dressing the Dearloves. This is a novel that I cherished for the time I spent reading it. There is plenty to keep readers absorbed; from the mystery, intrigue, romance, historical references, family politics and of course the fashion!
Sylvie Dearlove, the fashion designer in disgrace, is the central protagonist that propels Dressing the Dearloves forward. Sylvie’s story is colourful and fascinating. Her work in the fashion world is interesting, along with her rise to fame and her spectacular fall from grace. I liked how Doust structured Dressing the Dearloves. We receive a great insight into Sylvie and her family via flashbacks, newspaper reports, media releases, documentary coverage, blog entries, articles, letters and more. Combined with a shift from the past to the present, this novel will keep you on your toes, in a good way!
The focal point of this novel for me personally was the discovery of the vintage clothing, nestled between the old trunks and tea chests in the attic of Bledesford. If you can visualise it, I was literally rubbing my hands together in glee! This is no doubt my favourite style of novel. I just adore it when a discovery is made in the present day that sets off a chain in motion to events in the past, it gets me every time! The unearthing of these key fashion pieces offers quite the lifeline to Sylvie. There is a metamorphosis process attached to Sylvie through these items and it helps her to reconsider how it would be possible to save her family home. Once her creativity and faith is ignited again it seems Sylvie can achieve anything and this was truly great to bear witness to. A nice side serve of romance also comes into play for Sylvie and I liked this touch very much.
Dressing the Dearloves presents a rich fabric of the past. Through the five generations of the Dearloves and the impetuous of the vintage articles unearthed in the attic, the reader is taken on a timeless journey into the past. We are graced with the opportunity to visit the dangerous moments of the Blitz, through to high society Britain in Edwardian times. I enjoyed basking in the glory of each and every one of these historical sequences. I also appreciated playing an active role in piecing together these key historical moments and how they formed the characters today.
Doust has a firm handle on her characters and I loved how this book offered a tribute to women, both in the past and the present day. Dressing the Dearloves presents a fascinating glimpse into a complicated family tree and despite the communication issues, as well as unnecessary squabbles, the Dearlove women endured. The final curtain call offered a sense of optimism for the Dearlove family.
Before I close off this review it would be remiss of me not to give recognition to Bledesford, the main locale for the book and the nucleus of this story. Bledesford has a commanding presence and it was presented to perfection by Kelly Doust. It was great to have my attention to drawn to the plight of these opulent manors and estates that are dotted up and down Britain. Through Bledesford, Doust exposes the pitfalls and issues these estates face. In particular, Doust covers the bind that the owners of these properties confront with having their private lives opened up to the public, in order to generate revenue from their family homes. We now see estates just like Bledesford that act as function rooms, museums and cafes. It is a difficult decision, but with the help of the National Trust and the public’s support, hopefully these stately homes can be saved from ruin.
Told with plenty of finesse and finite detail, Dressing the Dearloves is a chic novel, showcasing the charismatic flair and passion of the author, Kelly Doust. I look forward to many more fashion infused stories from the craftsmanship of Kelly Doust.
Dressing the Dearloves by Kelly Doust was published on 20th August 2018 by Harper Collins Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Dressing the Dearloves, Kelly Doust visit here.
Dressing the Dearloves, is book #122 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge