Monday, 1 July 2013

Review: The Last Days of the National Costume by Anne Kennedy

First and Foremost, a big thank you to Allen & Unwin and the Reading Room for my review copy of this book. It was quite a pleasant surprise to find this one waiting for me on my doorstep. 

I found myself utter absorbed in this tale which gives a unique spin on two important but sometimes overlooked points in history, the five-week blackout in Auckland in 1998 and the death of Bobby Sands in Belfast in 1981. The story opens with Megan 'GoGo' Siglo, a woman in her late twenties who runs an alteration and mending store in Auckland in the late 1990s. On the same Friday that Auckland finds itself without electricity, an Irish dancing dress is brought to the store. The dress is a family heirloom and three people soon want it back--Trisha who brought the dress in, her lover, Shane and Shane's wife Milly. Although GoGo often hears sordid tales of how the garments were damaged, the dress, the love triangle and most importantly, Shane soon draw her in. GoGo lies about the state of the costume and a friendship soon develops between herself and Shane, who begins to tell her a story about  his days in Belfast in the early 1980s. Soon, it becomes obvious that it is not only the dress, the love triangle or the tales of Ireland that are keeping GoGo interested ...

I loved the attention to detail in this one and the backstories of both Shane and GoGo and the development of their relationship. I also have to admit, I enjoyed both the New Zealand setting and the fact that it was set during the five week blackout. The depiction of GoGo's relationship with her husband is a very honest one--neither good, nor bad, just honest. I liked that. There were a few minor things that bothered me--perhaps it's just the generation gap and things were different fifteen years ago--but GoGo, her husband and their 'friends' seemed a little old for people who were only in their twenties. But I do love what happens to the dress in the end.

Overall, well done.