The Dressmaker: A Novel
Doubleday/historical fiction, Titanica
Release Date: February 21, 2012
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.
Recommended by a friend, I downloaded this book from my local library. It was my first time to borrow an e-book from the library and now I am hooked! Why did I think it was going to be a hassle? I know why- because I use a Kobo, which can be grouchy. Thankfully, Word Nerd Teen is otherwise occupied this summer (dance intensive), so I am using her fabulous Nook Tablet and in addition to downloading free books from the library, I am now reading free books in Barnes & Noble stores. Considering most of my summer is going to be spent waiting on her, this is a great development! Enough about that– on to the book…
I wasn’t sure I could handle another Titanic story. I have read a lot of them, fiction and non-fiction, and they tend to either be marginally about the disaster or something that keeps me in tears. I cannot forget that it was a real event, with real people and the tears just flow. (Let’s not even discuss the movies….) The Dressmaker fell into the latter category, as there were scenes that were almost impossible for me to read. I don’t feel that Alcott was trying to dramatize and wring out false emotion, she just did a very effective job of describing what passengers must have been feeling.
At times the story became so fantastic, it became off-putting. I can suspend reality with the best of them, but don’t expound on the gritty reality in one sentence and then present me with a totally unrealistic episode in the next. I don’t want to spoil the story, but for those that have already read it– Jack. You know what I’m talking about. Cinderella anyone?
Despite the occasional jaunt into fairytale land, this book is well written with strong characters. You do care what happens to them- even the ones you do not like. The depiction of mental illness and the way it is skirted around in polite society is particularly wrenching.
I did have one major disappointment. In numerous places Tess and Lucile were referred to as Jess and Jucile. Is copyediting even a thing anymore? Jucile? I supsect that it was probably a font issue in the e-book and something not found in the printed copy. Regardless, I think it is totally unacceptable for a major publisher to issue a book in any form with such an obvious error.
My verdict: Read it. I believe this is one of the best Titanic fiction books I have read, most likely because of the great use of real people and documented facts surrounding the tragedy.