The Winter Dress: A Review

The Winter Dress: A Review

In 2014, on the island of Texel, North Holland, an incredible discovery was made. Local divers recovered artefacts lost centuries before in one of Texel’s many storms. Among them was a well-preserved silk dress. Dating back to the 17th Century, it is considered one of the most significant textile finds ever. For Lauren Chater, author of The Winter Dress, it was also the inspiration for a moving, beautiful story about the unstoried gaps in history.

The Winter Dress, by Lauren Chater

The Winter Dress is a dual timeline story. Dr Jo Baaker is a textile historian who lives in present-day Sydney. She has spent her life running from the pain of her past, including the loss of her parents. When an old friend asks her to return to Texel, the place of her youth, to examine a unique dive discovery, the lure of a strange, shimmering silk dress is strong enough for her to turn and face events she left behind.

In 1651, Anna Tesseltje’s journey begins in Amsterdam. Impelled by her own tragic loss, she travels to the Hague, where she begins a new life as companion to the famous artist Catherina van Shurman. All she takes with her is a valuable gold silk dress that belonged to her mother. The past haunts Anna too: she believes she has been cursed since birth to bring tragedy to those who love her.

As Jo seeks to unlock the secrets of the winter dress, Anna’s story unfolds in parallel. Both women find themselves in a new place, developing new relationships. Each faces an uncertain future and secrets held by others that might impact their lives in overwhelming ways. Like the faded pattern of the winter dress, Anna’s story emerges through Jo’s search. Unexpected clues offer potential truths as the dress, and the past, are exposed to the light of the present.

Lauren Chater has an intelligent, lyrical writing style. Some phrases are so beautiful they make me catch my breath. Chater weaves the two strands of story together impeccably. The story beautifully explores the inevitability of fate and the way we are shaped by our past. At the same time, unexpected twists and conflicts make this an intriguing read.

As someone who loves to wander antique stores, imagining the past stories of the items there, and the lives they were once part of, I loved the central premise: how much of the past can we really know from one object? Incredibly, the winter dress at the heart of this story will be placed on permanent display in Texel in 2022. There is a picture of it in this linked article, but the theories about its origins in the article have since been disproven. If you are interested in history, particularly fashion history, The Winter Dress will take you on an adventure and settle into your heart with its beauty and emotional depth.

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