Book Review: The Dressmaker's Gift

Ah, this was a lovely read to sort-of-start-my-year-to.

Things you should know about me:

I love Paris. As in, this city might be my favourite of all the cities, more than even New York and I love New York.
I love a book with a wartime setting. I don't know why this is, but it is, I am always strangely drawn to all the wartime historical fiction.

This book, then, well, it kind of could have been written for me, if Fiona Valpy knew me well enough to write a book for me, which she doesn't. What I'm trying to say, in a very long-winded way is that this is a book set in Paris in wartime and I loved it.

Paris in 1940 is under Nazi occupation and 3 young seamstresses are trying to live life as normal - or so they'd have you think. Actually, they all have secrets: Mirielle is fighting the resistance, Claire has a German officer boyfriend, and nobody really knows what's going on with Vivienne.
Then, in the present day, Claire's granddaughter Harriet is in Paris looking for some clues to her past.

It's a good read. I liked it. I read it a couple of days after getting back from Paris, a trip in which we'd made a point of getting off the beaten track a little and going up and down back roads and side streets,which it seems was an excellent plan because it meant that I recognised a lot of the places mentioned in The Dressmaker's Gift. I'm a fan of that. I love recognising places in books, being able to really clearly properly imagine the setting and my - albeit basic - knowledge of Paris (I've only been twice) meant I could -kind of - put myself in Harriet and Mirielle and Claire and Vivienne's shoes and I loved it.

This book is such a good read - 4 strong female protagonists, 3 of them in WWII, love and heartbreak and mystery and betrayal. The last maybe third of the book was hard - two of the girls end up in a Nazi work camp and Valpy pulls no punches - it's graphic and it's hard to read and it hurts, but don't let that pull you off because the rest of this book is not hard to read at all, and it's vivid and descriptive and it's also inspiring, what these 3 girls (and they are girls) manage to achieve against the backdrop of war.  It was interesting too, because a lot of the historical fiction I read falls into similar categories and follows similar patterns, so this, about the Nazi occupation of France was fascinating, the power the Germans had over the French in their own city, the underlying current of fear and oppression that every single person lived under. It's touched on also in Code Name, Verity and I loved it there too, but this takes it a step further and I just found it really interesting to read about. Unimaginable, but interesting nonetheless.

The concept wasn't original - Harriet finds a box of photos and traces them back to Paris where she follows in her Gran's footsteps with the story jumping between then and now and to be honest - as is often the case - I found then massively overshadowed now. I would have loved this book as much without Harriet's part. I might have loved it more and it did seem convenient how she got this job in the same offices as Claire, living in the same apartment as Claire and her friends and living with the granddaughter of one of  Claire's friends. I rolled my eyes and I rolled them hard. I got over it though, once we got into the nitty gritty. Suspend belief. That's what you have to do with this book, suspend belief when it comes to Harriet and just get lost in the story of Mirielle, Claire and Vivienne; they're the ones we're here for anyway.