Book review by Cari Mayhew. Rating 9/10.
This haunting tale will have you spellbound right to the shocking end!
Its set in Victorian times, linking 2 central characters. Lady Dorothea takes up charitable work visiting Ruth Butterham, a self-confessed murderer, in the local prison. Dorothea is a student of phrenology and is fascinated by how the shape of a person’s skull can “apparently” signify aspects of their personality.
Through successive visits, Ruth tells Dorothea her story. It all begins with Ruth as a victim; a victim of poverty, bullying and a physical attack. She becomes angry, hateful and vengeful. She is then pulled out of school to bring in a wage for her growing family. All her energy goes into sewing, sewing for money and sewing items for her soon to be born sister.
There are several macabre scenes at this point. Shortly after her sister’s birth, Ruth sews her a blanket with an angel embroidered in the corner. And it’s while she’s wrapped in the blanket that the newborn dies, and the reason for the death is described by the slang “taken by the strangling angel”.
Ruth believes that she has the power to curse people to death with her sewing, and this is a belief that grows stronger with each garment that she sews. Ruth secretly enacts vengeance on her growing list of enemies, as more people die who are connected to Ruth and her sewing. The story intensifies as Ruth’s circumstances deteriorate at every turn.
While Ruth’s story becomes increasingly gothic, Dorothea’s chapters are light and breezy, concerned with finding the right suitor. With regards to her visits with Ruth, Dorothea’s attention diverts somewhat from her phrenology as she listens to her story – but she listens as a skeptic. She sees how bitter Ruth has been but does not see her as a murderess.
Towards the end of the book, Ruth faces her trial. But that is not the end of the drama! I did not see that ending coming!
The language of the book befits the era in which its set, and I often came across words I was unfamiliar with. This did not put me off at all. The book may be odd in its premise, but is more dark and sinister than most – thoroughly recommended!
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