Nicole R's Reviews > The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott
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Sep 30, 2012

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bookshelves: ner, 2012, debut, historical-fiction, pick-a-year-challenge-2012, survival, new-york, women, titanic
Read in September, 2012

Fiction rarely gives you as interesting of characters as real life, and I felt like Ms. Alcott tamed them down when she could have written something extraordinary.
Lady Lucille Duff Gordon was a popular dress designer in the early 1900's. Helped along by her beneficial marriage to the wealthy Cosmo, she designed dresses for the rich and famous. Mr. and Mrs. Duff Gordon were two passengers on the Titanic and survived the sinking by climbing into lifeboat one with a handful of crew. Launched at just a fraction of capacity, the Duff Gordon's faced rumors, scandal, and inquiry about their behavior and possibly bribery of crew members to not go back to help more people from the icy waters.
All of the above is the factual portion of this historical fiction novel. The story portion came in the form of Tess Collins, a talented seamstress working as a maid in England when she saw the Titanic as her ticket to a better life. She was hired last minute to be a maid for Lady Duff Gordon on the trans-Atlantic trip and soon convinced the famous designer that she could be of assistance in her New York shop. Tess also survives the sinking, though in a different lifeboat, and the impending events are told through her eyes as she struggles with who to believe, forging a newfound friendship with New York Times reporter Sara "Pinky" Wade, and chooses between a rich man who can give her everything she has ever wanted or a crewman from the Titanic who she has an undeniable pull toward.
This book was just okay. I really liked that it was based on actual people and scandal that sprung from the sinking of the Titanic. I did not know much about the Duff Gordon's except that they made brief appearances in the James Cameron classic. I also really liked the character of Tess. I though Alcott did a terrific job of showing her inner conflict between her loyalty to Lady Duff Gordon and the facts that pointed to less than compassionate actions.
However, I didn't feel overall invested in the characters and while the story was told at a steady pace, that pace never picked up enough to really pull me in. I didn't connect with the struggle to choose between the two men because I didn't feel like we had enough insight to their personalities. And, there was SO much I wanted more detail about! I just wanted the book to be more. I think it had the potential to be a well-researched and written historical fiction book if the author would have had the courage to go beyond the popular 300 page length of popular contemporary fiction.
Overall, a quick, not UNenjoyable read about one of the most captivating events in history.
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