By Kate Alcott
Double Day, $25.95
Just in time for the centennial anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic comes a vivid, romantic, and relentlessly compelling historical novel about a spirited young woman who survives the disaster only to find herself embroiled in the media frenzy left in the wake of the tragedy.
Tess, an aspiring seamstress, thinks she's had an incredibly lucky break when she is hired by famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon to be a personal maid on the Titanic's doomed voyage. Once on board, Tess catches the eye of two men, one a roughly-hewn but kind sailor and the other an enigmatic Chicago millionaire. But on the fourth night, disaster strikes.
Amidst the chaos and desperate urging of two very different suitors, Tess is one of the last people allowed on a lifeboat. Tess’s sailor also manages to survive unharmed, witness to Lady Duff Gordon’s questionable actions during the tragedy. Others—including the gallant Midwestern tycoon—are not so lucky.
On dry land, rumors about the survivors begin to circulate, and Lady Duff Gordon quickly becomes the subject of media scorn and later, the hearings on the Titanic. Set against a historical tragedy but told from a completely fresh angle, The Dressmaker is an atmospheric delight filled with all the period's glitz and glamour, all the raw feelings of a national tragedy and all the contradictory emotions of young love.
I knew when we first met Tess, putting unironed, crumpled sheets on her employer's bed, that this wasn't going to be the usual Titanic story. This one was going to have a different spin to it. I was really looking forward to reading Kate Alcott's The Dressmaker, and I am really glad that I did get to read it! Tess wrangles her way on to the Titanic by seizing an opportunity to work for Lucile, Lady Duff-Gordon, the infamous clothing designer and the somewhat questionable survivor on the Titanic. Tess is no maid, she's a talented seamstress, with a gift in design and Tess uses this opportunity to get to New York and find a future there.
Unlike other books and stories with a Titanic plotline, The Dressmaker's author, Kate Alcott, wisely places the tragic sinking towards the beginning of her story and places all of the action and development around the survivors and the U.S. Senate hearings that asked questions that one hundred years later, are still being asked.
I enjoyed reading The Dressmaker, I think the plot lines were interesting and the writing even and consistent. I do have to add that I was a bit disappointed in the character development in some of the second tier characters and I felt that we really didn't get to know Tess, or what she really thought of the two diametrically opposed men who Tess is involved with from the ill fated cruise, Jack, the wealthy Chicagoan and Jim, the sailor.
Alcott, in a brilliant move, used actual testimony from the hearings to help paint the scenery of what the world was like in 1912 and how the Titanic was evacuated. It was good to see the names of the famous and infamous included in her telling and it was enlightening to learn that even a hundred years ago, the paparazzi were present (and hounding in their pursuit of a photo and a story from the mournful, dazed survivors) as the Carpathia docked in New York. Alcott also includes a daring and somewhat pushy female reporter, Pinky, so that she could provide the readers a look at the about-to-explode world of the suffragettes and women's rights.
Tess grows in wisdom and strength, the story is interesting and it's told from a new angle, I just wish there was more emotion there. I wish we knew Tess better. She's a character worth knowing,
I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.
*This galley was provided to me by the publisher's publicist at my request, and that in no way affected my fair review.