Tuesday 13 May 2014

The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby

On 22 November 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy accompanied her husband to Dallas, Texas, wearing a pink suit that was one of his favourites. But as Jackie was greeted by ecstatic crowds that sunny morning, nobody could have dreamt just how iconic the suit would soon become. 
In The Pink Suit, Nicole Mary Kelby has written a novel imagining the life of the garment that became emblematic of the moment the American Dream turned to ashes. Kate is an Irish seamstress working in the back room at Chez Ninon, an exclusive Manhattan atelier entrusted with creating much of Jackie's wardrobe. 
Kate and the First Lady share roots in rural Ireland, and although their lives could not be more different, Kate honours their connection by using the muslin toiles for each piece she sews for Mrs Kennedy to fashion an identical garment - in a different fabric - for her own niece. 
Then comes the terrible day that pictures of Kate's handiwork, splashed with the president's blood, are beamed all over the world.  
The Pink Suit is a fascinating novel about politics, fashion, history and the people who have a hand in it - from the backrooms of a Manhattan dressmaker's to the Blue Room at the White House.

The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby is published in the UK by Virago (Little Brown) in hardback on 5 June 2014.

The story opens with one of the most memorable events of the last century. That day in Dallas, November 1963 when the assassination of President John F Kennedy shocked the world. Described almost in slow motion, this passage is a powerful introduction to The Pink Suit.

As America, the world and the First Lady try to come to terms with what has happened, the iconic pink suit that Jackie Kennedy was wearing that day is whisked away.  It was never cleaned, it lays in the National Archives still splattered with her husband's blood.

Kate is an Irish immigrant, she works in the back-room of a New York couture house; designing and cutting clothes for the wealthy. Kate never meets the customers, but she feels that she knows them intimately by the clothes that she lovingly creates for them. Kate made that pink suit, copied from a Chanel design, exactly as the 'Wife' asked.

This is Kate's story and is based on fact, and although her story is interesting, for me, the strongest aspect of the story was when the author tells about the fashions. Her descriptive writing is beautiful and conjures up the colours and the feel of the fabric so well.  Kate's story fits in nicely and does give a snapshot of life in the fashion business in the 60s, but is overshadowed by the beauty of the clothes she creates.

Overall, I did enjoy The Pink Suit. It's a quick and easy read featuring an icon of our times. My main niggle is that the author did not use the Kennedy's names throughout the story. Jackie remains the Wife throughout and this really began to irritate me.

The Pink Suit is a unique and interesting look at life in a world dominated by one family, one murder and one item of clothing.

My thanks to Emily Burns from Virago (Little Brown) who sent my copy for review.

Nicole Mary Kelby is the critically acclaimed author of four previous novels, including White Truffles in Winter. She lives in St Paul Minnesota and will be spending a year as an International Writer in Ireland in 2014 at the Sirius Arts Centre and teaching at University College Cork.

For more information, visit her website www.nmkelby.com.  Follow her on Twitter @nmkelby and check out her Facebook page.

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