January 2012, Bello, 268 pages, Paperback & Ebook, Review copy
Themes: making clothes, life for the rich, heartache, cheating, friendships, helping others, betrayal, love, making the most of what you have,
Content: adultery, adult relations (both not explicit at all), some humour, tissues needed
Summary from Pan Macmillan
Eva Ibbotson’s magical novel set in that most poignant of all times and places - Vienna before the First World War.
Susanna’s dress shop stands in the delightful Madensky Square and is the very hub and heart of life.
Susanna sympathizes with her neighbours, watches over Signi, the wretched, orphaned child prodigy, and with her infallible eye for dress, turns an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan.
Of all the colourful characters in Madensky Square, only her dear friend Alice has the slightest inkling that Susanna hides more than one secret. This hidden life, full of passion and anguish, gradually unfolds in a city of romance, music and gossip.
I was invited to review this since the publisher, Bello, is reprinting books that are considered to be classics. I usually run screaming from classics as I don't enjoy them, however any girl/lady who has her own shop peaks my interest so I had to read it. It was a lovely story which nearly made me late for work as I was nearly finished with this surprising gem of a read.
All the aspects of being a dressmaker such as making the dresses, showing them to potential clients, having deadlines, having a crisis, having difficult clients etc were portrayed in Susanna's life over a year. I confess to not being bothered by the historical setting, I was far more interested in Susanna's easy, captivating voice which made even the mundane - when it happened - interesting. She is a good woman, despite being a tad immoral and being someone's mistress. She knows other mistresses, and they bond together, not necessarily saying out loud what they are doing. Susanna understands them and helps them through the tough times as she does for so many of her clients. Each and every one has their lives changed simply by knowing her.
She is a bit of a detective as she likes to know what's going on. She found out the truth of the young musician and made me cry through her compassion towards him. I couldn't stop smiling when Susanna acts determined and makes a father realise how stupid his attitudes towards his daughters were. Susanna's own life is surprising, and she shows an inner strength to be proud of with her patience with her anarchist employee who gets sent to prison, patience with clients who think they know best, patience in getting to the truth in the pious fiancee with scary dolls of saints. Despite her life choices I quite liked Susanna's attitude and loved every month of the year in her life.
Eva died 85 years old in 2010. Her writing most definitely lives on my bookshelf/e-reader.
Another fun dressmaking read is The Seamstress by Maria Duenas (Historical, Fiction, 9/10E)