Thursday 22 August 2019

Kerrigan's couture is a catalyst for love

The Dress, Kate Kerrigan, Zeus, €17.99

Liadan Hynes

Kate Kerrigan's latest novel, The Dress, was almost lost when she left her laptop, containing the only copy, in a taxi. She immediately took to Twitter to appeal for its return and, helped by authors Cecelia Ahern and Marian Keyes, succeeded in a happy ending, with the laptop's return.

The dress of the title is a couture piece. The narrative jumps between two time periods: Lily, in present day London, a vintage-obsessed blogger; and in 1950's New York, Frank Fitzpatrick, an impoverished child from rural Ireland, now a self-made magnate; Joy, a beautiful socialite; and Honor, who is trying to become a designer.

Lily comes across an article about 'The Dress', worn by Joy Fitzpatrick, whose husband, Frank, looks very like Lily's recently deceased grandfather. Back in 1950, Frank and Joy are drawn to each other, his hero instincts aroused by this sad beauty, Joy seeing in Frank a chance to bring meaning to her shallow life. But it's a marriage built on emptiness: Joy becomes an alcoholic and Frank's passion turns to rage. In an effort to reignite his love, Joy plans a party. She discovers Honor, a lowly Irish seamstress, and recognises her natural talent. The two women begin work on Joy's party outfit.

For all three women, the dress is a catalyst for change. Lily, for whom early failure has meant a life of safe choices, is catapulted professionally and personally. While it fails to save her marriage, Joy finds purpose in the process of creation. Honor comes out worst. Having caught Frank's eye, her life is blighted by an entanglement with him.

Unlike many books about the fashion world, high on excitement at the glamorous setting, The Dress has none of this breathlessness. The writing is grounded in human drama, with the fashion element written about lovingly, in terms of the craftsmanship of couture, or realistically, in the case of Lily's travails in today's corporate fashion world. Joy's sensitively drawn transformation, as well as the lively depiction of Lily's exploits, make this an engaging read.

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