Blurb (as on Goodreads):
Is prisoner Ruth Butterham mad or a murderer? Victim or villain?
Dorothea and Ruth. Prison visitor and prisoner. Powerful and powerless. Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder.
When Dorothea’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted with the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person’s skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes. But when she meets teenage seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another theory: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread. For Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches.
The story Ruth has to tell of her deadly creations – of bitterness and betrayal, of death and dresses – will shake Dorothea’s belief in rationality and the power of redemption.
Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer?
A gothic literature set in Victorian England is something I didn’t think I needed to survive until I picked up ‘The Corset’ by Laura Purcell.
‘The Corset’ is about Ruth Butterham, a famous inmate in the Oakgate state penitentiary, who is accused of murdering her own mistress. While the outcome is the same, Ruth’s description of the chain of events that resulted in this gruesome crime is magical, and according to most people, fictional- a sort of coping mechanism.
Ruth’s life has been difficult, and not in the slightest way. She has been through things, we would otherwise term as abuse- emotional, mental and physical.
Dorathea, on the other hand, represents the upper section of the society. She has her own share of pain. She is an ardent lover of Phrenology, and when she finds Ruth, she decides to apply her knowledge to her condition- which organs in the brain are responsible for which qualities etc.
As time passes, Ruth becomes an important part of Dorothea’s life, and she needs to distinguish between fantasy and science.
The Corset is nail-biting from the start. It kept me on my toes. Each chapter has a new chilling event/discovery, the information adding a lot more suspense to the already bone-chilling setup.
The characters are extremely layered, making us see them in a new light after a certain interval. You are bound to feel all these different emotions as the plot progresses, until its all a blur and you are left with astonishment and rage.
The Corset is one of those books that won’t leave your mind. it certainly hasn’t left mine. The story is somewhere along the lines of ‘Alias Grace’ but the writing has enough originality for the author to claim it as one of hers. The story is all about the complexity of the mind, and that people are mere puppets at times.