The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee

Sunday, March 24, 2013

When a teenage girl disappears, a small town is awash with rumours: everyone is talking about the dress she wore, a midnight-blue dress made from the remnants of other dresses, a dress of stories ...
For her whole life, Rose Lovell has moved from town to town with her alcoholic father. When they wash up in a coastal sugarcane town, Rose wonders if this time it will be different. 
At the local high school, Rose meets Pearl Kelly, who is popular, pretty and intent on tracking down her Russian father. When she convinces Rose to be part of the annual Harvest Parade, Rose must find a special dress for the occasion. She seeks the help of the eccentric Edie Baker, who knows all the town’s secrets and whose own family is a rich tapestry of stories. When Rose agrees to let Edie teach her to sew, she doesn’t realise that nothing will ever be the same again.
The Midnight Dress weaves an intriguing story of loss and longing to the very last page.

The Midnight Dress is not classified as a YA novel (it's a coming of age tale, really, and many literary fiction titles for a general adult audience focus on this adolescent angst without explicitly being YA), though it features teenaged protagonists. The Midnight Dress is beautifully written, slightly surreal, just exquisite. Though it didn't interest me based on the blurb, once I started reading I was entirely entranced. It's unique and lovely, but also very dark - I recommend it to older teenaged readers looking for a more literary novel as well as adult readers.

I so loved Edie's sad tales of her youth and great love, and Pearl's search for her Russian father. There really is a lot of sadness in this novel, but it's magical, too. While it works extraordinarily on a character level (every character raw and honest and sad), it's also well-constructed plot-wise. The foreshadowing and mystery are nuanced, the two alternating narratives at different points in time slowly converging, making it very difficult to stop reading until one discovers the truth. It's set in Cairns in the 1970s, and there is a lovely timeless quality to it, and the theme of loss of innocence is exaggerated by the fact that it's set in what's considered a more innocent time.

It reminded me of One Long Thread by Belinda Jeffrey, for a few reasons, namely the narrative being focused around the construction of a dress, and the influence of an elderly woman in the making of the dress (In One Long Thread it's Grandma Pearl, in The Midnight Dress it's Edie), and the magic inherent in the process. It's being published in the US this October, I believe, which is wonderful. It's a compelling and heartbreaking novel.

The Midnight Dress on the publisher's website
Proudly designed by Mlekoshi playground