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The Dress Lodger    by Sheri Holman order for
Dress Lodger
by Sheri Holman
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

The intriguing cover prompted me to pick up The Dress Lodger in my local bookstore. The title piqued my curiosity and I discovered that a dress lodger is a woman who rents a dress from her landlord to ply her trade on dark streets - in this case those of Sunderland, England. This novel proved to be a good choice. It deals with grinding poverty; ignorance of the cause of disease; and the tenacity that allows people to survive against overwhelming odds - only to be struck down by a killer that no one can see. Sheri Holman applies all these dark subjects with style to bring history alive.

People die at a rapid pace in this well written book (the author's second), as its story revolves around the cholera epidemic of 1831. But Death is not the only character in the novel. Dr. Henry Chiver is a physician / teacher who is forced to rob graves for corpses, with which to teach anatomy classes to his students. His fiancée Audrey bumbles trying to help Henry in his chosen field and precipitates a riot. There is also the dress lodger herself and her landlord's daughter, a backward child with the fanciful name of Pink, who cares for the dress lodger's son. He was born with his heart outside his rib cage.

The Dress Lodger is written in the present tense. It's hard to maintain through an entire novel, but Holman does it gracefully. She steeps the reader in the nineteenth century as though one had stepped through a doorway into 1831. There are no epiphanies in this book; no wondrous scenes of great happiness. It presents a daily grappling with the rigors of survival, and speaks of the indomitable human spirit. This is not an easy book to read but it is one to keep on your shelves.

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