All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Dressing The Dearloves by Kelly Doust

on October 8, 2018

Dressing The Dearloves
Kelly Doust
Harper Collins AUS
2018, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

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.

I absolutely adored this.

Despite the fact that I’m Australian and there probably isn’t a building here older than just over 200 years (or maybe because of?), I’m so into the whole crumbling manor houses that date back to the 1400s or whatever, that populate English novels. There’s something about those graceful old buildings, even as they’re falling into disrepair that’s so romantic and I just sort of long to live in one. Yes they come with crippling upkeep and taxes and whatever and there’s only so much Heritage Trust money to go around but just the idea of living in some 60+ room stone mansion with different wings and sculpted, stately gardens harks back to a completely different time. I love books that take these and give them modern day issues and contexts and this book does this so well.

Sylvie grew up in such a place, a manor that has been in her family for generations. Now she’s returning to it after her foray into New York fashion went horribly wrong, determined to regroup and rebuild her life. She’s surprised to discover that her parents are finally selling the manor as the debts mount and the money runs out and more and more needs replacing. Although Sylvie supported the idea, freeing up her parents to enjoy the later years of their life in comfort, when her mother asks for help clearing out the attic, Sylvie finds generations of clothes belonging to fashionable Dearlove women, most of them designer, all of them beautiful. It inspires her and although she’s suffering from crippling self-doubt, Sylvie slowly comes to understand the importance of the manor to their family, it’s history and the secrets it keeps and she suddenly decides that they must do anything they can to protect it.

I’m not hugely into couture myself but I enjoy reading books set in the fashion world. Sylvie was a hot designer, snapped up for big money in America after a hugely successful range. However she finds herself let go, burned out, struggling with self belief and inspiration until she finds the clothes in the attic. Her friend encourages her to use the clothes as a way to generate income but it takes Sylvie a little time to figure out what the right method of earning money from the clothes should be! I loved the descriptions of the outfits and the fact that the story took you back to some of the times where those outfits were worn, by the generations of Dearlove women who came before Sylvie.

Sylvie’s great grandmother Lizzie is a very strong character in this novel – she’s very elderly now, almost bedridden, which shocks Sylvie although it probably shouldn’t. I think it’s more because of the sort of character she was – a very opinionated, strong minded woman. The book takes you back in time to key moments in Lizzie’s life and how those shaped the woman she became – or perhaps how the woman she was actually shaped those moments! I can’t say that I liked Lizzie, in fact the more I found out about her, the less I liked her. She was very much a product of her privileged and wealthy upbringing and the family name and reputation were everything to her, so much so that she was willing to sacrifice her happiness and that of her sister in order to preserve it. Although I’m not sure Lizzie would’ve considered it a sacrifice for herself… was everything to her, seen as her ‘duty’, something she chose to do willingly and was super invested in making sure her sister played the role too. I really liked the character of Lizzie’s sister and her struggle with what Lizzie wanted her to do vs her own desire for a life she chose, a life that would make her happy.

This was a compelling story – well several compelling stories woven together! Loved the different generations and their individual struggles and just the whole manor house setting. I found myself completely invested in Sylvie’s change of heart and her desire to suddenly save it, preserve it and keep it in the family. When it was placed up for sale it was obvious that the only people or corporations likely to buy it would tear it down and build entire housing estates on the land, or something like that and at first Sylvie thought she was fine with it but when it comes to the actual reality, she’s not so keen to let it happen. And so she must find a way to save the house, secure the funds to restore it and work out a way to make it profitable. I really liked the way this played out and the way that Sylvie found purpose again in a place she had kind of avoided.


Book #168 of 2018


5 responses to “Review: Dressing The Dearloves by Kelly Doust

  1. Jess says:

    I’ve been intrigued by idea of this book, even more so now after reading your review. Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in one of those homes?

    • Gosh yes! I think it would be amazing. I love reading about them and watching tv shows about people who want to restore places like this. It fascinates me. I think if that’s your sort of thing, you’ll enjoy this!

  2. Agree!! With everything you said! I LOVED this novel.

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