He smiled at memories. Peter did not.
‘I met her five years after I threw her out, walking through the Temple. She was as sleek as a seal with her hair cut in a cap, walking as if someone had trained her to dance. A grown-up woman with success in her eyes, and she said how do I look, Lover boy, do you still not want me? I invited her here. She came in dressed in a real Lanvin evening jacket. High-necked, satin. Her mother or grandmother might have had such a thing. Held together by a single button, yellow silk, cross-cut, topstitched heavy-duty thing. Of course I wanted her….
'Every week [she] came to this room. She dressed; she undressed. I am always besotted with beautiful clothes, while my dear wives never cared. She was the ideal model. She loved what I loved and I loved to dress her. She was the perfect shape, she could bend double, pliable as the sloth, still, nothing she wouldn’t do, no position she could not reach.'
observations: Bernadette reviewed this book on her marvellous blog, Reactions to Reading. She is a wonderful reviewer, I find her take on books incredibly helpful – she expresses ideas and reactions that I never see in other places: she has an honesty and perception that you don’t realize are missing from other reviews till you read hers.
Anyway, she said I should read this one because of the clothes in it: she said ‘I kept thinking of Moira as I read this as there are lots of clothes in this book. One character is a restorer of them and another is a collector so there are lots of lovely descriptions - and then the idea of how we use clothes to enhance or hide our identity runs through it too. I might not have noticed all of that before I started reading [Clothes in Books].’
- so obviously I got hold of it, and it is indeed full of clothes: fashion and fashion choices are absolutely key to the whole plot, and Bernadette sums that up very well in those few lines above.
In the first few pages, a barrister apparently kills herself, not long after what the back cover describes as ‘her last gruesome case – when she knowingly sacrificed an innocent witness to let a criminal walk free.’ Her few friends, and the people involved in that last case, talk and ask questions and investigate. Is there more to her death than meets the eye? We are invited to wonder: is she 'wearing her high heels in Hell?’
Fyfield does a memorable job with the characters, but they’re a horrible lot. Writers are always being described as the ‘heir to Patricia Highsmith’, and this is one of the few cases in which I think the comparison is justified, because of her cold cold eye and the cold cold hearts of the participants. In the end, I prefer books with some redemption, and the idea that we may all be capable of terrible things, but some of us might try to be capable of better. There’s not much sign of that in this book, and there are vile descriptions of the bad things people do to each other. It’s hard to get a handle on the court case that kicks off the book – and it is impossible to believe that the barrister could have said all those things in the transcript: given that the court case is key, that’s a bit odd.
There are, however, some fabulous descriptions of clothes, and of what they mean and what they show, and of how we make our choices. One of the characters has a workroom where clothes are cleaned and repaired, and that’s very well done and intriguing. There’s a marvellous description of the V and A fashion department, and some extraordinary individual garments come up in detail.
Overall, I am very glad to have read this book, and am grateful to Bernadette for the tipoff.
The lady in the yellow jacket is the designer mentioned, Jeanne Lanvin, painted by Clementine-Helene Dufau, from Wikimedia Commons.