2022 Reviews · historical fiction · new release

New Release Book Review: Dressed by Iris by Mary-Anne O’Connor

Title: Dressed by Iris

Author: Mary-Anne O’Connor

Published: February 2nd 2022

Publisher: HQ Fiction – AU

Pages: 528

Genres:  Fiction, Historical

RRP: $29.99

Rating: 4.5 stars

A vivid, romantic story of Sydney in the 1930s Depression – the heartbreak, the glamour, the dark underbelly, the struggle towards a better day – and one young woman’s dream of designing her way from rags to riches. For readers of Natasha Lester and Victoria Purman.

1930: Seventeen-year-old Iris Mitchell dreams of designing clothes, but there’s little spare cash for fashion in their shanty-town home. The gift of a single purple ribbon from would-be boyfriend John Tucker, however, creates an unexpected opportunity … and when Iris’s brother Jim joins the Sydney Harbour Bridge construction, the large, dirt-poor but loving Mitchell family can move to the city. Iris will be torn away from John, but he’s Protestant and she’s Catholic, taboo in their world, so perhaps it wasn’t meant to be …

1932: By day, Iris scrubs the floors at Caron’s, an upmarket department store. By night, she designs and sews in her family’s tiny, crowded house. Friendship with gorgeous, livewire Natasha, one of Caron’s models, allows Iris to show her skills, but will her talent be acknowledged … or exploited?

When John reappears, passions are reignited, and Iris must face not only their religious divide, but the apparent impossibility of having both marriage and a career. Meanwhile, the Mitchells must navigate life in a city riven by corruption, dirty politics and gambling. Will their faith, determination and deep family bond save them when tragedy and adversity strike? In 1930s Sydney, the stakes have never been higher …

Review:

Glamour, fashion, ambition, faith, family, expectation and loyalty all converge in Dressed by Iris by Australian historical fiction scholar, Mary-Anne O’Connor. An all-embracing saga that dazzles and shines with glory, Dressed by Iris is a historical showcase not to be missed!

Opening in 1930, we meet Iris Mitchell a teenager on the cusp of adulthood who longs to design clothes for a living. But her family’s dire financial situation means that Iris cannot achieve her ambitions. When Iris is bestowed with a life changing purple ribbon from a handsome young man named John Tucker, her life is changed. With the Mitchell family receiving additional essential income thanks to Iris’s brother Jim, who has been given a position working on Sydney’s great harbour bridge construction, the Mitchell family move up a little in the world. But Iris is shattered emotionally when she discovers that a strict religious divide stands between her and John Tucker. Moving forward two years, we learn that Iris has gained employment at a well-respected department store, while she works cleaning the floors at the store by day, at night she designs clothes. When Iris makes a vital connection with a young and vivacious model named Natasha, she finally gets her designs acknowledged. Will Iris find success or will she be exploited?  Then Iris is thrown into disarray emotionally when John enters her life again. The passion and love between these two souls is clearly evident, but the religion issue still presents as a problem, along with her work as a designer. Iris is torn between expectation, morals, marriage and a career. But Iris has other issues to worry about, her family are falling into financial and social ruin thanks to the trying conditions of Depression-era Sydney. Will the Mitchell family survive?

Mary-Anne O’Connor is the proud author of over six novels in the Australian historical fiction category. O’Connor once again presents a truly fabulous and engrossing historical fiction composition in Dressed by Iris. A story that brings to life Depression-era Sydney with a knowing gaze and finesse, I loved this new title from one of my favourite Australian novelists.

First of all, I have to say that it was fabulous to see an author that I respect visit Depression-era Sydney and bring to life this challenging time period so clearly. I really valued the opportunity to take a trip back the past and learn more about this trying chapter in our nation’s history books. O’Connor highlights the issues prevalent at the time from poor living conditions, financial woes, corruption, black market deals, gambling, politics and extortion. It seems quite unbelievable that people managed to survive these times, it really did give me a big wake up call! O’Connor also successfully highlights the religious, social and moral codes of the time thanks to the star-crossed lovers element between the leads of this tale. I thought this aspect of the book was covered extremely well by the author.

A large portion of Dressed by Iris is dedicated to fashion and design, which happens to be one of my favourite content lines. True to form O’Connor delivers a fascinating and fabulous historical representation of the fashion business during the 1930s. Iris’s journey to success is marred by expectation, class, love and exposure. This aspect of the story allows O’Connor to tease out all her characters, with their perfections and imperfections exposed. I really enjoyed this area of Dressed by Iris. I also lapped up the forbidden style love story that underpins the entire novel, Mary-Anne O’Connor has the wining formula here in regards to her romance element. Family relations, loyalty, faith, support and love rounds off this unforgettable story. I am sure fans old and new will find this dimension of Dressed by Iris to be most satisfying. Rounding off this amazing story is a fascinating acknowledgments section which details author Mary-Anne O’Connor’s own special family history link to this story. It is well worth a read!

It is easy to deliver praise to Dressed by Iris by Mary Anne O’Connor, this is an exceptional novel that I highly recommend.

Dressed by Iris by Mary-Anne O’Connor was published on 2nd February 2022 by HQ Fiction – AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of Dressed by Iris, Mary-Anne O’Connor, visit here.

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

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