April 09, 2009

The Journal of Dora Damage - Belinda Starling

I had previously read about The Journal of Dora Damage over at Danielle's Blog quite some time ago and I remember thinking then that this was a book I would be interested in - just can't get enough of books set in Victorian England/London! So, it has taken me a while but I have finally gotten around to reading this one - and am very glad that I have.

Dora Damage is a young woman married to a book-binder, living in a poorer, working class area of London in the 1860's. As the novel begins we see that Dora's world is consumed by the care of her husband, her house and especially her young daughter Lucinda who has regular seizures - an illness that for that time period was considered worthy of institutionalisation.

Dora's world changes when her husband Peter becomes so affected by his rheumatism that he is unable to work any longer. In order to ensure that they don't go without food, and so they are able to repay their numerous debts, Dora begins to take on book-binding work from some pretty unsavoury characters and she becomes the book binder herself. Dora finds herself drawn to the work - she is particularly good at it - and even though the nature of the work she is binding (expensive pornography for the upper classes) causes her some moral dilemmas she relishes her new role as worker for money.

The book is particularly detailed in relation to the book binding trade and even the nature of the housework that Dora is required to complete. I would normally find this quite intrusive and boring but it only helped to connect me more to Dora and her way of life - I felt her connection to the book binding work and the immense satisfaction she received for completing the various tasks involved in completing a book.

The nature of the difference between the expected roles of women and men in this era is clearly displayed. Dora is shunned by her community for taking on this work and it is assumed by many that she is selling more than just her work as a book binder. The book contains many reflections by Dora on her awareness of these differences between the sexes:

Finishing is the way the book presents itself to the world and gets noticed; the forwarding is more like the women's work, for one never notices it unless it has been shoddily done. (p. 82)

If I stopped to think too carefully I would probably say that at times the plot of the book felt a little contrived and forced - some events that happened made me stop and think "would this have actually happened?" but overall this did not detract from the reading. I was totally engaged with Dora and what would happen to her - I wanted her to triumph in the end!

Thetruly sad thing about this book is that the author, Belinda Starling, died suddenly soon after completing the book at the age of 34. A true tragedy for her family and the reading public who will not be able to enjoy any more of her great writing.


Tara said...

I've been holding on to this one for some time myself. It's definitely my favorite genre, so I'm saving it for a 'rainy day' so to speak. Glad to read your good review of it.

Jules said...

I like Victorian books but this one might not be for me... I'm not sure I would hang on to the day to day shores...

Karen said...

Hi Tara - this book would definitely be a great rainy day read - I didn't want to leave the house to go to work while I was reading it!

Hi Jules - I know what you mean but I would say give the book a go and see how you go. I didn't find the detail took over from the story.

Danielle said...

So glad to hear you liked this on overall. Sometimes an occasional 'suspension of belief' doesn't necessarily take away too much from the book. I loved reading about the bookbinding aspect of the novel. It is indeed sad that the author died so young!

Karen said...

Hi Danielle - I agree, if I can suspend belief while reading a novel and just let go and not worry about it I know it is a good read!

Anonymous said...

I found this surprisingly enjoyable so am glad you liked it. Not always enitrely plausible, but so much fun I didn't mind.

Karen said...

Hi adevotedreader - that's exactly what I think!!

Lisa said...

This sounds right up my alley. I can't believe I haven't heard more about this book. Thanks for the review!

Karen said...

Hi Lisa - so glad you like the sound of it!

Savidge Reads said...

I bought this yesterday, meant to say sooner, and all because of your review, I had been picking it up a lot and then your thoughts clinched it!

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