Author: Kelly Doust
Publication Date: 20th August 2018
Publisher: Harper Collins
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher
Dressing the Dearloves is the sophomore offering of Kelly Doust, a woman who loves vintage fashion. Her love of vintage fashion is something that shines through in her novels. The book is about a Manored English family who have always prided themselves on public reputation but it soon becomes just as much about the significant fashion history contained in the attic.
Sylvie Dearlove is a fashion designer who wanted to make it big in New York. She has talent and had a great start but when the inspiration started to run dry things stopped going so well. Feeling like she has to live up to the family name Sylvie loses contact with her entire support network back home. Friends and family alike hardly hear from her until finally she decides she has to head home to regroup for a couple of weeks.
We soon discover that Sylvie is running from more than just the ruins of her fashion label, and that she’s going to get more than she bargained for when she gets home.
It’s all well and good to own a Manor but as they age the upkeep becomes an expensive exercise. Sylvie has been trying to convince her parents to sell for years but the place has been in the family for generations so they just can’t bear to part with it. Sylvie’s return home sees four generations living in Bledesford Manor together and the history is palpable. Unfortunately the manor house is showing every one of its years and if something isn’t done soon it will crumble into ruins.
Sylvie’s parents have taken out loan after loan but it’s getting to the point that the funds just don’t go far enough to make any headway. The Dearloves have made the heartbreaking decision to sell. The house is almost completely closed up and they only use what rooms they need to, the grounds are unkempt and the property is nowhere near ready to sell.
Home for a while anyway Sylvie is asked to help with the mammoth task of sorting through the generations worth of wardrobe stored in the attic. The story shines through the fashion finds and the attic acts as the doorway through time to connect us with earlier Dearloves and share their stories, as imprinted on the material memory of their garments almost.
Doust has captured an amazing time span in one novel as we delve into the lives of five generations of Dearloves, uncovering a host of secrets, lies and betrayals; discovering love stories that never quite made it to the annals of the family history.
Dressing the Dearloves is a beautiful story that offers something for everyone. There is romance, fashion, mystery and a gorgeous English manor that is slowly brought back from the brink.
Sylvie has always felt a lot of familial pressure to live up to the family name, to never bring negative attention to the family and reputation is of the utmost importance. It’s no wonder that she felt a little too ashamed to turn back to those on home soil for support when it all fell apart, especially when her fashion brand IS the family name.
Lizzie Dearlove is Sylvie’s aging great-grandmother and current matriarch of the Dearloves. She is now in her 90s and once Sylvie is back at Bledesford she realises that perhaps Lizzie isn’t doing as well as she could make out in Skype catchups. We see a lot of her through Sylvie’s eyes in the present and feel the bond they have always shared.
We get to know Elizabeth Dearlove through the flashbacks throughout the book and she’s not quite the dear old lady Sylvie loves. I actually found her quite unbearable. I could understand how she ended up that way, but it didn’t stop me finding her quite intolerable. She is quite proper and had it drummed into her how important the family name is.
The fashion finds in the attic help us to see a different side of Lizzie but her advanced age is also seeing her let things slip that she’s been keeping close for decades.
Gigi Dearlove is Sylvie’s hippie grandmother, who has always been painted quite flaky. It isn’t until Sylvie returns home that she starts to see Gigi more clearly, through a lens that isn’t coloured by other opinions. Gigi has lived a colourful life and seen a lot, she has the wardrobe to prove it, but now she’s settled in at Bledesford and living a much more sedate life.
The clothes, the manor and the people all undergo quite a transformation that was fascinating to watch and kept me captivated. Doust presents a history of fashion along with the history of the Dearloves and the Manor and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
Dressing the Dearloves is book #40 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2018.