The Dress Lodger

  • by Sheri Holman
  • Narrated by Nadia May
  • 12 hrs and 41 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Fifteen-year-old Gustine is a "dress lodger", a young prostitute who rents a beautiful blue dress from her landlord to attract a higher class of clientele. To make sure she earns her fees and to keep her from running off with his fantastical gown, her pimp has set a malevolent old woman, known only as "the Eye", to follow her through the back alleys of Sunderland. By day a potter's assistant, by night a courtesan of the streets, Gustine works to support her fragile only child, born with a remarkable anatomical defect.Surgeon Henry Chiver is a prisoner of his own past. Implicated in the Burke and Hare killings in Edinburgh, in which beggars were murdered so the corpses could be sold to medical schools, he has come to Sunderland to start a new life. He has a loving fiance, an influential uncle, and an anatomy school that is chronically short of teaching cadavers.Doctor and dress lodger come together in the filthy, overgrown East End of Sunderland. Here, during the worst epidemic since the bubonic plague, Gustine secures bodies for the doctor's school, until Henry's greed and his growing obsession with her child challenge her loyalty to him. With cholera bearing down on the city, Gustine must turn to her mortal enemy, the Eye, in her battle for the life and afterlife of her child.

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What the Critics Say

"Narrator Nadia May is at her best as she narrates this bizarre story with appropriate irony and even humor....A stunning experience." (AudioFile)
"With remarkable breadth and depth, the narrative vividly portrays the human suffering spawned by the early Industrial Revolution....This dazzlingly researched epic is an uncommon read." (Publishers Weekly)
"Holman's vivid writing, rife with historical social commentary, renders Sunderland's residents and their sometimes macabre interactions disturbingly real." (Booklist)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Sorry, a disappointing novel for me...


The book begins promisingly, cleverly engaging the listener as the characters as introduced, but, as we get to know them, these individuals become increasingly wooden and predictable.

(I confess, however, that I abandoned the book during Chapter 10, so I'm only commenting on Part 1 and just-into Part 2 of this audiobook!)

The story is set in the early 1830s, but the language can't seem to make it's mind up where it belongs in historical terms, fluctuating between an attempt at low-life Georgian vernacular and modern-day slang...

And, although we find ourselves in Sunderland, the vocabulary is irritatingly all-American: "blocks" on the street, "diapers" instead of nappies, "pants" instead of trousers etc. (I can't quite understand how such "mistakes" survive the editing process..?)

The narrator, Nadia May, is clearly a capable actor, but she seems to have trouble deciding whether the heroine, Gustine, is an experienced "woman of the world" whose voice is dark and full of contempt and suspicion, or an innocent young teenager who trills and giggles... I didn't like these inconsistencies.

As the novel opens, Ms Holman acknowledges a plethora of advisers and historical sources. Sadly, I fear that she was shockingly ill-advised on a number of issues since there are so many historical detours in the narrative, not to mention blatant historical errors! This might not detract from the fictional story for many readers, but, for me, this author simply isn't able to revisit and re-enliven history as can Peter Ackroyd...

If you want to read Ms Holman on her "home territory", try "Witches on the Road Tonight" instead. There may, of course, be historical inaccuracies in that book too, but it's a compelling story based in a contemporary US, with flashbacks to a magical, pre-war, rural America. It was certainly a better listen than "The Dress Lodger"!
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- Julie T

Book Details

  • Release Date: 16-12-2004
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.