Book Review: The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker - Kate Alcott

Book: The Dressmaker


Author: Kate Alcott


Genre: Fiction/Romance/Historical


Summary: 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 her personal maid on the Titanic. Once on board, Tess catches the eye of two men - a kind sailor and an enigmatic Chicago businessman - who offer differing views of what lies ahead for her in America. But on the fourth night, disaster strikes, and amidst the chaos, Tess is one of the last people allowed on a lifeboat. The survivors are rescued and taken to New York, but when rumors begin to circulate about the choices they made, Tess is forced to confront a serious question. Did Lady Duff Gordan save herself at the expense of others? Torn between loyalty to Lucile and her growing suspicion that the media's charges might be true, Tess must decide whether to stay quiet and keep her fiery mentor's good will or face what might be true and forever change her future. - Anchor Books, 2012.


I have to admit - I was lukewarm about this book when I picked it up, but I was too intrigued by it to abandon it forever. I kept coming back to it in the bookstores, so I decided to give it a chance.


As always, reviews will be spoiler free.


As far as Titanic fiction goes, it's pretty standard/run-of-the-mill. I do feel that Alcott basically inserted Tess's story into the Titanic disaster and subsequent investigation. It started off fresh and original, I was ready to go on Tess's journey with her, but then as soon as the ship sinks, Tess's story becomes second place to the investigation. It's not about her and her conflict as much as it is about the aftermath of the sinking and how the committee looked into what went wrong. For that, I think the story suffered immensely. Honestly, if your story requires you to basically describe what really happened (give or take a few fictional characters/characters based on real people) and your protagonist's tale comes second, that's not a good sign for a writer. You shouldn't be writing a history lesson in the middle of a fictional novel. 


The characters themselves are fine. They're memorable, but they're not written very deeply. I couldn't connect with Tess or her two beaus. I also think that Tess's character motivations were see-sawing between the fierce, independent girl who wants to achieve her dreams and the submissive, timid girl who wants to be protected and kept safe. Lady Duff Gordon was another character I wished I could have been allowed to look more deeply into because her motivations, while not entirely charitable, would have been interesting to explore on a deeper level.


I thought some conflicts that happened within the novel were introduced and solved too quickly. Pacing was a little rushed in some places; drawn out in others.


Overall, due to the basic rewriting of the investigation of what happened, the lack of character depth, and so-so plot, I give The Dressmaker a B-.




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