Friday, June 9, 2017

Liz Trenow - The Forgotten Seamstress

It is 1910 and Maria, a talented young girl from the East end of London, is employed to work as a seamstress for the royal family. As an attractive girl, she soon catches the eye of the Prince of Wales and she in turn is captivated by his glamour and intensity.
But careless talk causes trouble and soon Maria’s life takes a far darker turn. Disbelieved and dismissed she is thrown into a mental asylum, shut away from the real world with only her needlework for company.
Can a beautiful quilt, discovered many years later, reveal the truth behind what happened to Maria?

Comment: This book got into my radar because I saw a review at Phyl's blog and she always summarizes her opinion in a way that, if a book is up my alley, her words convince me to try it. This story seemed interesting, therefore I got the book some time ago and this month finally decided to read it.

In this book we an almost dual time plot. I say almost because despite us having narratives from two different times, the focus is clearly in the present and the past is presented as a taped interview and not the usual narrative segments. 
In the present we follow Caroline, a 38 year old woman who just got laid off and finally deals with the reality of her mother's Alzheimer, which makes it difficult to help her on a daily basis and she will need money, which is about to decrease in case she doesn't find a new job. In the meantime, she inherits a quilt, although Caroline doesn't know if it belonged to her late grandmother or not. But the quilt is the connection between Caroline and Maria, a woman who used to live in an asylum and who was considered insane...

Now that I've finished the book, I have to say the idea is quite interesting and the secrets cleverly imagined. I also felt the need to investigate one or two things while reading just to have a better notion about the time frame of the past section.
There are two sections like I said, past and present.
The past is told through interview tapes and we get to know how the quilt - which is the main element of the story in a way - was done and by whom and why. We also are told Maria's story, for she is the narrator of that past section. Maria's story is complicated and unfair and avoidable but after going though things it's always easy to imagine alternatives. I confess I felt for Maria when she placed in a situation she couldn't control and how long she "paid" for a situation not only her fault.
The emotional side isn't aggressively exploited in this novel but it reaches interesting high peaks here and there and I did shed one tear or two.

The present side of things is told from Caroline's POV, and she is not only dealing with a lot in her personal life but she accepts the quilt as hers and because she is an artist at heart, she is planning on using it as an inspiration. Sadly, her mother is no longer wholly sane, so she can't simply ask her questions, which means she will need to investigate the quilt another way. The plot develops from there, intertwined with Maria's sections.

I liked both sections which is why I consider the book a good read but I confess Caroline had one two moments where I didn't like her much. Most of the time, she was a likable heroine, she was going through tough situations and then she has something incredibly hard happening to her and how she dealt with it was not done well, in my opinion. Here you have someone with lots on her mind, her mother's illness, her being laid off, having broken up with her boyfriend, her lack of confidence in her talent as an artist... and then, another huge problem which wasn't addressed well happened. I kind of get why that situation was put there - although, overkill - but the way things were dealt with was no where near acceptable, especially for a woman with Caroline's personality.

There is a mystery throughout the novel, which is solved rather well, even when I think that it can be seen as obvious from a certain point on. The way we find out wasn't imaginative or truly believable. There is also a conflict arising between Caroline and Ben, a man who helps her investigating the quilt's "movements" and also with other issue. Ben is a romantic element, which can be interesting if not for the silly argument for drama's sake and how his relationship with Caroline seemed a bit "flat" but perhaps that was just the writing style.
The end was rushed and could have been slightly sweeter when it comes to the romance.

All in all, I liked this book, even when I think about (and apparently focused on) the less than great elements. Some scenes were truly intriguing and made me want to keep reading. I might try something else by the author in the future...
Grade: 7/10


  1. I'm so glad you liked this one, too. It really was an intriguing sort of book, wasn't it. And thank you for the shout-out :) Very kind!

    1. Hello!
      I do pay attention when you review books, lol, it just takes me ages to include them in my reading lists.
      Please, post more book related stuff! :)