I looked at A Forgotten Seamstress by Liz Trenow two or three times on separate trips to the library before I finally decided to give it a try. After the language loser of A Storied Life of A.J. Fikry I was very hesitant to start it. Would I get sucked into a story only to discover a terrible flaw like unbearably foul language?
The story itself is a dual construction with the past being interwoven with the present. Each piece of the past reinforces the reader’s need to keep reading, regardless of time or people. In the past the reader is introduced to Maria, a former seamstress at Buckingham Palace. She is telling her story to a doctorate student, who records her on cassette tape. In the present the reader is introduced to Caroline Meadows, who is having a very bad couple of weeks.
The stories become entwined around the existence of an extraordinary quilt. It has rich velvets, royal silks, and plain cotton all hand stitched together. Caroline finds it at her mother’s house and is drawn to it. At loose ends in her life she begins to search for the reason her grandmother left her the quilt.
I love the story, but I was especially drawn to the character Maria and her heart wrenching life. I know it is a fictional story, but I am pretty sure it isn’t far from the reality of the times. In the darkest time of her life she was able to find the strength to overcome and even move ahead. I thought Caroline was okay, but her character pales in comparison to Maria.
The novel takes us behind the scenes of Buckingham Palace and inside an insane asylum during the early 1900s. In some ways it’s a very open examination of the way mentally disturbed (and occasionally potentially scandalous people) were treated during that time period. The author must have done a lot of research to make it sound so realistically awful.
One thing I did not like about the book was Caroline’s language when she got really mad. In an otherwise clean book there were two pages with terrible language on them. I get that she was devastated and angry, but come on… can’t the author find a better way to express her anger!?! Because it had been so clean up to that point I kept reading, and thankfully no other foul language appeared.
It is a good read if you skip a few pages when Caroline gets really angry. That only happens once so it is very skippable.