Picks and Pans Review: The Dress Lodger

updated 03/27/2000 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/27/2000 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Sheri Holman

Book of the Week

Holman, a 33-year-old American-born writer, has crafted a remarkable historical thriller set in England at the outbreak of the 1831 cholera epidemic. In this Dickensian tale, the unlikely 15-year-old heroine, Gus-tine, is a "dress lodger"—a prostitute who rents an expensive gown from a pimp hoping she'll attract rich clients. Kept under surveillance by a malevolent hag, Gustine must also fend off a grave-robbing surgeon who views her baby, j born with a rare physical defect, as a science project.

In an exploration of class conflict that resonates even today, Holman conjures up the teeming back alleys of a long-ago time and place, giving us a dazzling narrative that pulses with irony, ribald humor and heartbreaking tragedy. (Atlantic Monthly Press, $24)

Bottom Line: Well-wrought novel of mother love in a time of cholera

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