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The Dressmaker by Elizabeth Birkelund…
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With a wedding gown on the cover and the back cover tease talking about a an ‘old-fashioned tailor’, one would expect The Dressmaker to be a romance novel. And it is, sort of.

What begins as an ordinary day in the life of Claude Reynard, tailor and dressmaker, in the small town of Senlis, France changes the moment he sets eyes on Valentine de Verlay. She has come to him to have a wedding gown designed. She, however, is unprepared for what follows. Claude designs her gown and it becomes the talk of the fashion world. He designs everything with Valentine in mind. However, she soon becomes an obsession for him. Although he’s been estranged from his wife for eight years he now wants a divorce. He is convinced that Valentine will see the error of her ways and ditch her fiance in favor of him. Claude can’t help himself or his yearning to simply see the object of his dreams and soon begins showing up at places where he knows she’ll be. Things take strange turns as life most often does and what begins as a great love with Valentine being the muse for the rising couturier, soon takes on the aspects of a stalker – especially when Claude follows Valentine and her husband to America. As a secondary story we have Henri, Claude’s fourteen year old nephew, and his first love Pascale. Like his uncle, Henri has shown a flair for designing women’s clothes.

The writing here is very descriptive and I could easily imagine the swish of taffeta or the glide of silk as Claude pinned and sketched fascinating clothes. The sight of the decades old apple tree in his back yard made me feel the warmth and hope of spring. Yet there was an uneasiness about the story. A question of Claude walking the tightrope between inspiration and madness. The conclusion was not expected and rather sad.

For some reason I like my romances to end happily, this being fiction. I felt a bit deflated at the end of this one so if that is what the author intended, then she’s done her job well. The rating is based on my reaction to the ending. ( )
  AuthorMarion | Feb 13, 2017 |
This summary really misses the mark, in my opinion. At no time did I feel that Valentine shared Claud's feelings for him. He was instantly smitten, quickly morphing into obsession, to the point that he almost forces himself on her at one of their last meetings. Their relationship is not sweet, simple or heartfelt. It is all lust for him, and all father-complex for her.

Adding to this plot is the estranged wife who suddenly appears after 8 years of silence, just in time for Claud to become a famous designer at one of France's most sought-after design houses. Overbearing, over-the-top, greedy, manipulative and grating ... this woman should have been turned on her heel. However, Claud succombs to her omnipresence and allows her to spend freely. Oddly enough, while his actions prove otherwise, he continues to make it clear to her and others that they are separated and getting divorced...all while signing check after check at her whim.

Then there is Lebrais, the owner of the design house. I could never figure out if the house was all-the-rage, or perhaps it had fallen out of favor with a fickle fashion market. In any event, Lebrais was the male version of Claud's wife: verbal, pushy, condescending and manipulative. Once again, Claud talks a big game, but falls in line with Lebrais' demands.

One bristling character I could have overlooked, two I could have handled, but three? I felt no compassion whatsoever for Claud by the end of the book. He deserved to be miserable, alone and a doormat. The saving grace of this book is the descriptions of fashion: the colors, the fabrics and the textures combining to create fabulous outfits.

This was the author's first book, so I will probably give her one more try. ( )
  CarmenMilligan | Jan 18, 2016 |
When I picked up this novel, I was thinking I would get a sweet romance set partly in Paris, with descriptions of gorgeous clothes. I was only partly right. There is certainly a romance, and it is set in Paris. There are numerous descriptions of cloth and lines and clothing which I would cut off a limb for, though that would rather defeat the point.

There was nothing however sweet about this romance. Forewarned is forearmed.

That is not to say though that this was not a good novel; in fact it was great. It just wasn't what I was expecting. In my own defense, the back-cover (or front for that matter) hardly hinted at the darkness of this story.

So, instead of a sweet enduring romance, we have this poor and completely sympathetic man whose life revolves around his clothing falling into a one-sided romance with a women about to be married. I should clarify that it is not entirely one-sided, though in the end we are still left wondering if she reciprocated or simply was fascinated that someone actually wanted her other than her fiance.

I strongly suspect the second. The other women is not an entirely likely character, perhaps because you become so emotionally invested in the lead male early on in the novel. Again, this is not a fault of the author, in fact I think her character was written this way for a reason. Others may not develop the same spiteful hatred towards this women that I did, but then again, I tend to get emotional for the underdog.

So, if you are looking for a light romance, this may not be quite right for you. This is a far more realistic portrayal of the roller-coaster of life than most may like to read. Despite my shock at the darkness (and the surprise ending!), I ultimately enjoyed the novel. I would recommend this book. ( )
  mrn945 | May 15, 2011 |
What a lovely book this is. The main character is Claude Reynaud, a French dressmaker and designer, who lives in Senlis, about 30 miles outside Paris. Claude is a man born years too late - he has not embraced modern design methods, or refuses to use computers or other modern conveniences in his work. However, his attention to detail and his ability to intuit exactly what will suit his clients means that he is incredibly sought after dressmakers.

Claude is not a passionate man - indeed his passion seems restricted purely to his work, and to his four adored nephews. However, he is unprepared for the day that his latest client, Valentine de Verlay arrives in his salon, for almost immediately, he knows that he will love this woman. There is only one problem - he has to design and make Valentine’s wedding dress.

Suddenly the serious and mild manner Claude finds his own life - and that of Valetine’s - unravelling at the seams….

The writing in this book is beautifully descriptive and luscious. Claude is a believable and sympathetic character, and while I found myself occasionally becoming angry with Valentine, I could really feel why Claude would love her.

I am a cynic when it comes to romantic books, and often deliberately avoid them. This book however, is unashamedly romantic, but it is seductive and immensely readable, although I would add that while not it would probably appeal more to a female audience. Claude may not be a typical hero type, but he is certainly a character who the reader can admire and root for.

Recommended! ( )
  Ruth72 | Oct 5, 2008 |
A wonderfully written story about inperfect love. I really enjoyed this book and kept thinking about it after I had put it down. The reader is rapidly drawn into the lives of the characters which have been carefully crafted. Not at all a sickly sweet romance. ( )
  Elphaba71 | Oct 30, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312426925, Paperback)

Claude Reynaud is an old-fashioned tailor, designing his famous gowns by hand in a cluttered studio well outside Paris. But one spring afternoon a woman arrives in search of a wedding dress and shatters all his composure: Valentine de Verlay is charming, beautiful, sophisticated, and, of course, engaged. Though he has long since given up on romance in favor of his work, Claude is instantly smitten.
 
As Valentine's wedding approaches, Claude finds it impossible to keep a safe distance, and everything he's come to rely on in his small, focused life looks ready to collapse. Worse still, it appears that Valentine may share his feelings.
 
The Dressmaker is a perfect gem of a novel, an enchanting portrait of another world, and, above all, a sly and irresistible love story.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:53 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"Claude Reynaud is a bit of a throwback, an old-fashioned dressmaker working in a cluttered studio outside modern-day Paris, quietly designing his famous gowns by hand. Every spring he ushers pretty young society brides into his studio, measures them, and designs their dresses without ever contemplating for himself the sort of romance that will lead these ladies and their grooms to the altar." "But one afternoon a woman arrives who shatters his composure: Valentine de Verlay is charming, beautiful, a lady of society, and, of course, engaged. She comes with no instructions for her wedding dress, just a beautiful figure, a long graceful neck, and total faith in her dressmaker. Claude, forty-six years old, devoted to his work, and long since deserted by his wife, finds himself smitten." "As Valentine's wedding approaches, his commitment to her dress makes it impossible for Claude to keep a safe distance, and everything he's come to rely on in his small, focused life looks ready to collapse. Worse still, as he is welcomed into her circle of friends and family, it appears that the betrothed Valentine may share his feelings."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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