book review

Wearing Paper Dresses | Anne Brinsden

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You can talk about living in the Mallee. And you can talk about a Mallee tree. And you can talk about the Mallee itself: a land and a place full of red sand and short stubby trees. Silent skies. The undulating scorch of summer plains. Quiet, on the surface of things. 

But Elise wasn’t from the Mallee, and she knew nothing of its ways. 

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…


When trying to think of words to some up Wearing Paper Dresses, I think of just two. One being wow, the other being beautiful.

Set in the Australian Outback in Victoria in the 1950’s, Elise, a city girl, along with her country husband and two children return to his home of Mallee. You see Elise trying to fight the stigma of a country town, and the stigma of what a housewife should be in the 1950’s.

Marjorie and Ruby are free spirited and run wild, while struggling to understand and come to terms with their mother’s untreated mental illness, while also just wanting to be kids, growing up and finding out who they really are.

The writing was so beautifully crafted, there were so many parts through out that I could picture myself out in the country, sitting on a bench at night by the fire, I could feel the heat of a hot summers day and humid nights, and the sweet smell of much needed rain, and having not only the people as characters, but the house, Mallee itself, the trees and the red dirt really pulled it together.

From how mental illness wasn’t really heard of, taken seriously or treated properly back then, grumpy grandpas to young love, and showing that when times are tough, people rally and come together and help each other, whether they have a little or a lot which shows that Australian fight and spirit we love so much, Wearing Paper Dresses was a beautifully written and crafted story, one I recommend everybody should read.

Thank you to the amazing team at Pan Macmillan Aus for sending me a copy of Wearing Paper Dresses for review.

ISBN: 978-1-76078-485-0

Imprint: Pan Macmillan Australia

Format: Paperback

Publication: 24thSeptember 2019-09-24

RRP: $32.99AUD

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