- Publisher: Virago
- Pages 288
- Released: 5 June 2014
I’m a sucker for ‘Brand Kennedy’ – anything, be it fictional accounts such as Stephen King’s fabulous 11:22:63 or my shelf full of biographies telling all about life in ‘Camelot’ and I’m there. So when I was scrolling through NetGalley and a flash of pink caught my eye, I just knew it was Kennedy related, and clicked immediately. (Note to publishers: Power of a relevant cover right there.) I wasn’t disappointed as The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby is a true joy, mixing the fictional with the factual with an effortless ease, pulling you in from the first gut-wrenching chapter.
Occasionally, an item of clothing will stick in the public’s conciousness long after it’s wearer has passed; think Brando’s leather jacket, Monroe’s white dress, and possibly one of the most famous, Jacqueline Kennedy’s beautiful pink suit. Worn the day of her husband’s assassination, it will be forever associated with the panic-stricken wife climbing bravely over the trunk of a car to retrieve pieces of the man she loved. It’s a powerful image, one that Kelby utilises to great effect in the aforementioned opening.
We then flash back to the early 1960’s as we follow the life of Kate, an Irish immigrant seamstress with an immense talent for recreating the newest designs on the catwalk, under the watchful eyes of ‘The Ladies’ at ‘Chez Ninon’ – Kennedy’s favourite house of couture. Although she has this amazing ability, is hard-working and loyal, she feels undervalued and manipulated, striving for something better. Kate is astute, often seeing behind the façade of not only the fashion industry she is part of, but of New York, and later on, Kennedy herself. The only thing keeping her from sinking under the disillusionment is her relationship with another immigrant from Ireland, the local butcher Patrick. As work on ‘that suit’ begins to take over her life, both emotionally and practically, Kate has to rearrange her priorities, and begin to look at herself and those around her with a totally new perspective.
Where Kelby shines throughout the novel is in her prose; she has an ear for speech that’s realistic without
being flowery or resorting to clichés, especially when writing Kate and Patrick’s relationship. I dare you not to have all the feels when you get to Patrick’s use of Yeats’ ‘He Wishes For Cloths Of Heaven‘. The use of Sligo’s favourite son is another strong tie to the Irish roots of the narrative. Kate and Patrick obviously yearn for their home towns, seeking out the right Irish pub for instance, and Kate often finds herself wondering whether the Kennedys feel the same way.
Another strong theme is one of loss. Patrick has recently lost his mother, Kate slowly loses her true identity and of course we see the inevitable loss of the Kennedy’s youngest child and then John himself. It’s all deftly handled without being mawkish or too ‘movie of the week’ and although at times fraught, (there’s one real life event that will send shivers up your spine) there is still an underlying feeling of hope and strength that comes from appalling tragedy.
I must admit, at times my mind did wander when it got to the finer points and details of dress design – I’m truly a jeans and tee kinda gal, but it never takes over the novel. Kelby also weaves the fact and the fiction neatly without it jarring: must admit, I’m definitely going to look into those tunnels underneath St Patrick’s Cathedral.
If you’re looking for an involving and realistic tale over the Summer, I’d wholeheartedly recommend this wonderful read.
Side Note: You may have noticed I linked to Amazon in the review. This is Amazon UK where the book is available to pre-order at a discounted price. If you are in the US I strongly recommend buying the book from your local bookstore or online from another retailer. Explanation for this here.