Thursday, 3 October 2019

Book Review: Wearing Paper Dresses by Anne Brinsden

Wearing Paper Dresses
Anne Brinsden

'A compelling story of country Australia with all
 its stigma, controversy and beauty.'

Publisher: Macmillan Australia 
Publication date: 24th September 2019
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 384
RRP: $32.99 AUD
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Courtesy of the publisher

Discover the world of a small homestead perched on the sunburnt farmland of northern Victoria. Meet Elise, whose urbane 1950s glamour is rudely transplanted to the pragmatic red soil of the Mallee when her husband returns to work the family farm. But you cannot uproot a plant and expect it to thrive. And so it is with Elise. Her meringues don't impress the shearers, the locals scoff at her Paris fashions, her husband works all day in the back paddock, and the drought kills everything but the geraniums she despises.

As their mother withdraws more and more into herself, her spirited, tearaway daughters, Marjorie and Ruby, wild as weeds, are left to raise themselves as best they can. Until tragedy strikes, and Marjorie flees to the city determined to leave her family behind. And there she stays, leading a very different life, until the boy she loves draws her back to the land she can't forget...

Wearing Paper Dresses is a beautifully written, heartbreaking story of mental illness and a family struggling to keep their head above water in the harsh Australian Mallee region.

The drought is in full force and son Bill is sent to the city to earn money to help support his parents back on the farm. He meets city girl Elise, refined and beautiful.

“Bill was from the Mallee, which meant he didn’t muck around either. He asked Elise to marry him – even though she was a non-catholic. And out of his league.”

They marry and have two children, Ruby and Marjorie. When Bill’s mother dies the family returns to the farm. Elise came from hats, gloves and pearls and tea in the Botanical Gardens to the dry, parched heat of the Mallee. Elise’s city ways never seem to fit in. The heat is oppressive and her French meringues are scorned. Ruby and Marjorie become as wild as the land around them.

Wearing Paper Dresses is captivating and immersive. It is not an easy read and does take some concentration but the reader is rewarded with a story that will capture your heart and leave you wondering if things could have turned out any differently.

The story follows Ruby and Marjorie as they grow up trying to protect their mother, always on alert for when the next bout of depression will hit. The girls are shunned at school and teased about their crazy mother.

In a place and time when men didn’t talk and feelings were kept inside the townsfolk offer Bill and Pa help in their own way.

Brinsden uses personification expansively and skilfully. Everything comes to life; the house, the trees, the weather. It’s a feast for the mind!

Wearing Paper Dresses is a story about life with all its harshness but from the depths of despair comes a glimmer of hope.

Anne Brinsden’s riveting debut has placed her firmly on the list of authors to watch out for.


my rating  5/5

This review is part of the Book Lover Book Review Aussie author challenge
book #31 in the Australian Women Writers challenge

Photo credit: Pan Macmillan Aus
 As far back as Anne can remember she has loved stories. Mostly, she would read them. But if there were no stories to read, she would make up her own. She lives in the western suburbs of Melbourne now with a couple of nice humans, an unbalanced but mostly nice cat and a family of magpies. But she lived all of her childhood in the Mallee in northern Victoria before heading for the city and a career as a teacher. She received the 2017 Albury Write Around the Murray short story competition, judged and presented by Bruce Pascoe; and was highly commended in the 2018 Williamstown Literary Festival short story competition. Wearing Paper Dresses is her first novel.



  1. Thank you so much for your review of my debut novel #wearingpaperdresses @macmillanaus I am honoured and thrilled that you have rated it so highly. 😍😍😍

    1. It was a pleasure to read such a wonderful story. I will be looking out for your next book.

  2. Wearing Paper Dresses sounds like a great read and I like that setting. Fantastic review.

  3. Oooh, interesting!! It sounds like it has a real The Dressmaker vibe. Thank you for sharing!!

    1. I haven't read The Dressmaker but it's on my TBR. I must make sure I get to it soonish.