#aww2019 · 2019 Reviews · Australian · contemporary fiction · new release

New Release Book Review: Wearing Paper Dresses by Anne Brinsden

Title: Wearing Paper Dresseswearing paper dresses small

Author: Anne Brinsden

Published: September 24th 2019

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Pages: 384

Genres:  Fiction, Contemporary

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 4.5 stars

You can talk about living in the Mallee. And you can talk about a Mallee tree. And you can talk about the Mallee itself: a land and a place full of red sand and short stubby trees. Silent skies. The undulating scorch of summer plains. Quiet, on the surface of things.

But Elise wasn’t from the Mallee, and she knew nothing of its ways.

Discover the world of a small homestead perched on the sunburnt farmland of northern Victoria. Meet Elise, whose urbane 1950s glamour is rudely transplanted to the pragmatic red soil of the Mallee when her husband returns to work the family farm. But you cannot uproot a plant and expect it to thrive. And so it is with Elise. Her meringues don’t impress the shearers, the locals scoff at her Paris fashions, her husband works all day in the back paddock, and the drought kills everything but the geraniums she despises.

As their mother withdraws more and more into herself, her spirited, tearaway daughters, Marjorie and Ruby, wild as weeds, are left to raise themselves as best they can. Until tragedy strikes, and Marjorie flees to the city determined to leave her family behind. And there she stays, leading a very different life, until the boy she loves draws her back to the land she can’t forget…

Review:

Wearing Paper Dresses is the debut novel by Anne Brinsden, and this novel has already been earmarked as an Australian classic. Brinsden’s writing has been compared to Colleen McCullough, Rosalie Ham and Elena Ferrante. These are big shoes to fill, but I feel that Anne Brinsden has made her very own special mark on the publishing world with her first novel. Wearing Paper Dresses is an emotional tribute to family and the land. Above all else, it is an utterly compelling coming of age tale.

Wearing Paper Dresses takes the reader into the harsh and unforgiving world inhabited by lead protagonist Elise and her two daughters. The family has moved to the country to save the sheep and wheat farm owned by Elise’s father in law. This stretch of farmland is incredibly isolated, located in the Mallee. Elise struggles to adapt to life on the homestead, as her creative pursuits and desire for a stunning rose garden just don’t mix in the Mallee. While her husband toils on the land, Elise spirals further and further into a pit of depression. Meanwhile, Elise’s two daughters, Marjorie and Ruby, are let loose while their mother convalesces. The girls must step up to plate and help manage the household in Elise’s absence. Things come to a head for the family when a tragic accident occurs and while no one is truly to blame, Marjorie cannot forgive herself. She escapes to the city, vowing never to return – but eventually the land comes calling for her yet again.

One of the greatest pleasures I have as a book reviewer is discovering new authors. Although Anne Brinsden, the author of Wearing Paper Dresses has been compared to handful of popular novelists, I really loved connecting with her signature style. I could see elements of Craig Silvey and Rosalie Ham in her prose, but I think Anne Brinsden has developed her own approach. I am looking forward to seeing just how far Brinsden’s writing will go in the future.

To begin, I really loved the structure of Wearing Paper Dresses. It carefully outlines the perspectives of Elise, the mother figure of this tale, and her two daughters. Interspersed within the narrative are short articles from The Australian Women’s Weekly, The Land Times and The Weekly Times. Accompanying these articles are advertisements and a Glossary of Terms. I found the Glossary of Terms helpful, as it provides the reader with a good picture of the specific terminology used in the central locale – at the time the book is set. These extra flourishes added another fabulous layer to this novel.

The land has such presence in this book, overseeing many of the events and the characters in the book. Even the house inhabited by the family in the novel has a strong impact on the reader. Anne Brinsden is clearly connected to the land, as Wearing Paper Dresses appears to be a strong tribute to the places and people she knows best. The descriptions of the setting of outback Mallee were beautifully rendered. I revelled in Brinsden’s prose, it was definitely unique. The dialogue employed by the characters in another highlight, it is quintessentially Australian and very localised, based on the informative glossary at the back of the book. I could very easily picture the people, the places and the happenings in this book, it was all incredibly vivid.

The narrative took a little while for me to settle into, but once I connected fully with the text, I was able to read this book in just two sittings. There are a vast range of topics and themes that circulate around Wearing Paper Dresses. I was able to pick up on relationships, familial connections, loss, isolation, hardship, freedom, mistakes, redemption, first love, friendship, expectation, belonging, misunderstanding and aspiration as core themes that arise during the progression of the novel. I do feel at the very heart of this novel, is the coming of age story of Marjorie, along with the sad situation of Elise’s struggles with mental health. At many times this book broke me in pieces. I felt bereft for the characters and the hopeless situations they faced.  However, Anne Brinsden balances these moments with light touches of humour, stemming from the authentic dialogue, which definitely raised this book up when I was feeling quite down. The final two pages of this novel was so poignant, it left a big impression on my heart and soul – thanks to Anne Brinsden for this stunning set piece.

On a side note, the stunning front cover paper dress design will definitely draw in those readers who have a weakness for covers. This is one of the most symbolic and exquisite covers I have seen this year.

Wearing Paper Dresses is an atmospheric novel, which captures the very essence of the Australian spirit. The strong characterisation, absorbing narrative and immersive setting makes this a novel fans of Australian fiction shouldn’t miss at all.

Wearing Paper Dresses by Anne Brinsden was published on 24th September 2019 by Pan Macmillan. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of Wearing Paper Dresses, Anne Brinsden, visit here.

*I wish to thank Pan Macmillan for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.

Wearing Paper Dresses is book #121 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge

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12 thoughts on “New Release Book Review: Wearing Paper Dresses by Anne Brinsden

  1. What a lovely review! I’ll be adding this to my ‘must read’ list. I hope it won’t be too long before I can get to it.

    Aww, Amanda, I just checked your Tea with Mrs B: Pamela Cook and you replied to everyone but me, I’m sure though it was an honest mistake 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much! It is always a pleasure to introduce readers to a new author, this one seems popular with readers already, which is great! I hope it won’t be too long before you discover this one.

      My apologies on the reply issue, I’m actually catching up tonight on my replies from the weekend sadly. I see that a couple of others have commented on the interview and I haven’t got to them yet. Busy week, sick kids and a change of job! Again, very sorry, it was an honest oversight 😦

      Like

  2. I’m totally struggling with this. I’m not liking the narration at all. I read you struggled a bit, how long did you struggle. I have to read it for b&l, but it’s a mission.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh no Claire! Did you like The Dressmaker? This book is a similar style, but a coming of age too, like Jasper Jones. Probably the first third of the book was testing but once I got into it I enjoyed it! Let me know how you go.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No I wasn’t a fan of the dressmaker. I find this kind of narrative style hard to connect with. I can’t remember the narrative style of the dressmaker, just that I found it very slow and boring.

        Liked by 1 person

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