Review: The Corset by Laura Purcell

Is prisoner Ruth Butterham mad or a murderer? Victim or villain?

Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder.

When Dorothea’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she finds herself drawn to Ruth, a teenage seamstress – and self-confessed murderess – who nurses a dark and uncanny secret. A secret that is leading her straight to the gallows. As Ruth reveals her disturbing past to Dorothea, the fates of these two women entwine, and with every revelation, a new layer of doubt is cast… 

Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer?

“You didn’t come to me for a happy ending.”

Ain’t that the truth. It seems fitting to finish up this book at twilight with THAT ending whilst rain lashes violently against my window and thunder booms in the background. I think Laura Purcell would like that.

The long and short of it all… is Laura Purcell has done it again. Dare I say, even though this is not spooky nor eerie, it might even beat The Silent Companions in the horror department. Genuinely my only complaint is some pacing issues in the middle largely due to Dorothea’s perspective and the predictable outcome of Ruth’s story. But The Corset is without a doubt one of the most distressing books I have ever read. You will not find rainbows, happiness, loving families and adoring romance here. Oh no, Purcell demonstrates many of the worst ways life can wreck someone to their core, and we as the readers, are figuratively dragged by the hair through it all as well.

From early on, I was absorbed into the story from Ruth’s perspective as her hatred seeped through the pages and burned into me. I was horror struck by all the events, feelings and thoughts that this young girl endured. The reader follows Ruth from 12 years old up until the age of 16, and you just can’t help but truly ache in the soul for her by the end. I was genuinely swallowing so much emotion I couldn’t control due to what she endured; my stomach was in knots and I felt sick. Even when Ruth annoyed me with her naivety, it made complete sense due to her age and any human’s tendency to latch onto any possible hope, even if imagined.

The other narrator of The Corset, Dorothea Truelove, wasn’t as endearing. Her chapters amounted to nothing more than casting religious judgement, iterations on the study of phrenology and the irritating hee-haw of the challenges she faced with potential nuptials and inheritances. In fact, at times her perspective did nothing more than bolster the plight the reader felt for Ruth’s character, because Dorothea thought she knew suffering and squalor, when in actuality her nightmares wouldn’t even do what Ruth endured justice. In of herself, I often found her perspective rather drib, to put it bluntly. Suffice to say, this caused some pacing issues and made reading the book as a whole at certain points feel painfully slow. Her character only became likeable, or for better explanation I should say enjoyable, in the last 10% of the entire book. Before that, I really couldn’t care less and felt her chapters were a chore.

But my heaven above Ruth Butterham. The story of Ruth Butterham will truly twist in my gut and memory. The Corset is not for the faint of heart, I assure all bookworms wondering if this is truly a story woven with horror; Ruth’s tale is pitiful and is not one anyone will remember for a happily ever after. The Corset demonstrates some of the worst ways life can play out, exacerbated by abhorrent human behaviour and perhaps the question of whether there’s a higher power, willing to offer a helping hand in exacting justice.

I think anyone who enjoyed The Silent Companions should endeavour to give this a shot, but bear in mind it’s not the same kind of horror (i.e. not as spooky), but it will haunt you in different ways. Meant in the most complimentary way, The Corset is one of the worst books I have ever read, for how it made me feel whilst reading it. Distress, rage, reduced to nothing but wisps of heartache. I resent what I read because of the terror I felt, but I will remember the story well into the future; it’s truly a worthy successor to The Silent Companions.

Oh, and one last thing. Something I noticed early on with The Corset, is there’s an abundance of striking prose. I kept tripping up over sentences thinking: oooh that’s so quotable and fittingly haunting. So, I shall leave this chilling book and its review with one of the last quotes that stuck in my mind: ”at what stage do we cease to be merciful, and become fools?”

Buy It Now

The Corset by Laura Purcell
Published September 2018
Genre: mystery/thriller, horror, historical fiction

To see my review on Laura Purcell’s ‘The Silent Companions’, click here.

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