All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Joint Review: The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison by Meredith Jaffe

on August 13, 2021

The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison
Meredith Jaffe
Harper Collins AUS
2021, 352p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}: Derek’s daughter Debbie is getting married. He’s desperate to be there, but he’s banged up in Yarrandarrah Correctional Centre for embezzling funds from the golf club, and, thanks to his ex-wife, Lorraine, he hasn’t spoken to Debbie in years. He wants to make a grand gesture – to show her how much he loves her. But what?

Inspiration strikes while he’s embroidering a cushion at his weekly prison sewing circle – he’ll make her a wedding dress. His fellow stitchers rally around and soon this motley gang of crims is immersed in a joyous whirl of silks, satins and covered buttons.

But as time runs out and tensions rise both inside and outside the prison, the wedding dress project takes on greater significance. With lives at stake, Derek feels his chance to reconcile with Debbie is slipping through his fingers …

A funny, dark and moving novel about finding humanity, friendship and redemption in unexpected places.

For those that have been regular readers of this blog, you would’ve seen joint reviews I’ve done before with Marg from The Intrepid Reader. Marg and I have known each other, both online and in person, for over 10 years now and the amount of books she has recommended to me in that time, I’m unable to count. Quite often in the past we’ve done joint reviews of books we’ve both read at similar times and enjoyed and when I mentioned to Marg that I’d recently finished this one after she recommended it a little while ago, she suggested a joint review again.

The first part of our discussion will be here and then the second part will be over at Marg’s blog. My thoughts are bolded and italics, Marg’s are normal text.

{M}: If it is okay with you I am going to start with the gushing and then we can talk about the book!

I read The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah a couple of months ago and absolutely loved it. It is one of only two 5 star reads for me so far this year and I have recommended it to quite a few people since I read it. When you said that you had just finished reading it, I jumped on the opportunity to talk about it!

What were your feelings about the book as you finished it?

{B}: I’m all for the gushing! Well. I read it basically because you’d told me a little while ago that you loved it. I originally started it on audio (which I was enjoying) but I also picked up a print copy recently in a sale and that enabled me to finish it faster.

Honestly? I think my overall feeling when I finished the book was just…..happy satisfaction. Like this book just gave me such joy reading it, especially the ending. And I feel as though things like that are really important right now. I read it in a couple of hours, it was just so easy to sink into this story. I never thought I’d get so invested in a bunch of prison inmates but I really did. 

So I guess let’s start with the setting. It is set mostly inside the Yarrandarrah prison and a lot of our main characters are the inmates. Have you read many books set predominantly in a prison before?

{M}: I am pretty sure I have never read a book set where the majority of it is set inside a prison. Watched TV shows, yes, but read books?  I can’t think of one. Have you?

{B}: No, I don’t think so. Mostly I think I’ve read brief scenes where cops go visit a prisoner because they need information or something but I don’t think I’ve ever read one that revolved around it so completely before.

{M}: In many ways, the story treads familiar ground in terms of being sure not to upset the wrong people, distrust, violence between prisoners. Against all this we get to know a group of characters who manage to form a bond, despite the fact that being in prison means that anyone of them could get moved away without even being warned. 

Our main character is Derek who is in prison for embezzling funds from his local golf club. It’s a crime, but you know….not as bad as other people there. Derek tries to keep to himself mostly. His ex wife makes it clear that she wants nothing more to with him and tells him that his daughter Debbie doesn’t either, but still Derek writes her a letter every week. When his former sister in law visits to tell him that Debbie is getting married, he wants to do something for her, but what can he do from inside when he is broke.

What did you think of Derek and the story of his crime?

{B}: I actually felt kind of sorry for him! I know he did the wrong thing and there are consequences for such things but it felt like Derek was kind of a man at the end of his rope who had one thing in life that gave him pleasure and unfortunately, that one thing was his downfall. His marriage is not great, his wife has lifestyle aspirations that he cannot fulfil and mostly he just seemed so miserable! Derek makes mistakes absolutely and he finds himself completely abandoned by pretty much everyone from his life, except his elderly father who is the only one that will accept his phone calls or write to him. It’s a lonely existence I think, and Derek just tries to keep his head down in prison and get through each day as it brings him closer to release. I felt like there were a lot of things that weren’t touched on in detail here but you could pull them out and examine them if you wanted to, such as the length of Derek’s sentence vs the length given for some violent crimes. You could absolutely use this book as the starting point for many discussions about issues surrounding incarceration, don’t you think?

{M}: For sure! One of the interesting discussion points could be what the role of prison is. Is it for punishment or is it for rehabilitation? And what role does education play, especially if you have someone who may never get released. In the book there is a character called Doc who is quite old and is most likely never going to be freed again but he still tries to learn as much as he can, but he also helps some of the younger prisoners learn to read.

At the heart of this story is a sewing group, which is based on an actual group in the UK called Fine Cell Work which goes into prisons and runs programs where the prisoners get to complete sewing projects, think cushion covers as an example, and learn new skills which they then may use once they get released.

While Derek is trying to figure out what he can do for his daughter, a new member joins the group, and then the  group as a whole try to convince him that they can make his daughter’s wedding dress. But how can they do that when Derek hasn’t seen his daughter in years so they have no idea what size she is, what style of dress she wants, or even whether she will accept the dress.

It was a struggle for Derek to make this decision. Did you understand his reservations? And what did you think of the other groups of the sewing group, who all brought different skills to the mix.


For the rest of our discussion, head over to this post:

But for me?


Book #141 of 2021

Book #61 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge, 2021

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