Nicole's Reviews > The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott
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's review
May 07, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: all-of-the-feelings, historical-fiction, history, fiction, romance, strong-females, read-in-2012
Recommended for: People with an interest in Titanic; people who enjoy light historical fiction.
Read from May 07 to 11, 2012

I've been a Titanic nut since I was nine or ten. Initially I just jumped on the James Cameron's Titanic bandwagon, but soon it turned into something more. Sixteen years later, I have a fascination with the catastrophe. So I was very, very excited when I found this on my library's Fortunate Finds shelf circa the 100th anniversary of the sinking.

The novel begins in Cherbourg, when Tess is picked up by Lady Duff Gordon and given passage on the Titanic. Tess is a maid with the ultimate goal of becoming a dressmaker. And who better to help her attain that goal than one of the most eminent designers of the time? But we all know the story of the ship even God Himself couldn't sink. Somehow Tess survives and makes it to New York, where she becomes caught up in the Duff Gordons' world of wealth and deceit during the Senate hearings meant to determine what really happened the night the ship sank.

I put this on my "strong females" shelf mostly because of Pinky, a plucky Times reporter making less than 50 cents an hour trying to be the next Nellie Bly. She's also supporting an ill father most people assume is dead. I wouldn't call Tess weak by any means, though, especially given her determination not to live her life for anyone else.

The sinking is covered quickly, which disappointed me initially, but Alcott makes up for it later with the survivors' testimonies and a few flashbacks. The biggest problem I had with the book was the lack of character development. Though much of the novel is centered around the Senate hearings, Tess and Lady Duff Gordon are supposed to be the Ones to Watch. Yet Alcott doesn't spend much time making them, or the others, people. For example: Why is Lady Duff's relationship with her sister so weird? Why is Pinky so upset over Tess's treatment of Jim? Is it because she likes him? You know, not likes him, but likes him likes him? Or is it just because she believes him to be a genuinely good person? I can theorize and research until the cows come home, but I'd like to be shown some things.

The romance plotline was lackluster. I didn't find Jack worth swooning over and don't think enough was said about Jim. (Additionally, I don't think much of Tess for canoodling with a married man just because he is going to get his divorce finalized "soon." In my experience, a guy who's seeing you at the same time he's with someone else is not much of a catch.) Also, I never can muster any sympathy for a heroine who is overwrought because two guys like her. I wanted to smack her like some fluttery ingénue in an old timey film: "Torn between two lovers, my arse. Snap out of it, Ms. Collins!"

But though I found the character development shoddy and thought there should've been more of Molly Brown and the Countess of Rothes, I applaud Alcott for this: No one is really painted as definitively good or bad. A lesson from history (and something pointed out a few times in The Dressmaker) is that everyone wants clear-cut villains to blame but often there are none. Even the heroes (coughcoughLowe!coughcough) aren't outright heroic.

Overall, I'd give the book three stars*. But the testimonies (from actual transcripts of the hearings), the depictions of how people were affected by the sinking (the cook's wife on the Carpathia gave me goosebumps), and the descriptions of the ship going down made me pretty emotional and I found this book hard to put down at bedtime, so four stars it is!

*White ones, maybe? Heh.
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Reading Progress

05/07 page 68
05/10 page 187
61.0% "These testimonies make my heart hurt."
05/11 page 216
71.0% "Dating/kissing a married man? Bad form, Tess."
05/11 page 233
76.0% "If I ever pull this "torn between two lovers, feelin' like a fool" crap, I hope someone slaps me like a fluttery ingénue in an old timey film until I regain my senses and SHUT. UP."
05/11 page 264
86.0% "Omgggg."
03/09 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Lucrecia " I can theorize and research until the cows come home, but I'd like to be shown some things." Couldn't agree with you more!

Nicole Right?! It's a pretty good book, though, overall. I still remember all the details so it obviously stuck with me.

Lucrecia With me as well I really wanted it to be better, some characters just didn't work with me but still, I kinda liked it...

Karen Malena I know how you feel. I love all things Titanic!! Hoping to enjoy this!!

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