Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"The Dressmaker" by Kate Alcott

book cover of The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott
Tess Collins took a major risk and luckily found herself in the right place at the right time. On the docks in Cherbourg, France, she introduces herself to Lady Lucille Duff Gordon just as the famous fashion designer is about to board the Titanic. She is hired on the spot as Duff Gorgon's maid, as least while they are at sea, but Tess is hoping to prove herself as a gifted seamstress and dress designer so that perhaps Lady Duff Gordon will take her under her very successful wing once they land in New York. As we all know, the ship meets disaster in the shape of an iceberg and never makes it to New York. What follows truly changes the course of Tess's life. Tess finds safety in a lifeboat, albeit a different lifeboat than her employer. The Duff Gordon's are in Lifeboat One, the emptiest lifeboat of them all. No one outside the life boat knows what really happened that horrible night, but the tales being told after their rescue are heinous. Just what is Tess's mentor capable of? The subsequent Senate Hearings and Investigation hopes to find out.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic. I'm sure National Geographic, The Discovery Channel, et al. have their documentaries lined up in queue, and I've already noticed that James Cameron's epic movie is already back in rotation on one of the premium movie channels. There has always been some level of fascination surrounding the demise of the "Unsinkable Titanic", and with its discovery laying on the ocean floor. Here is a story to complement that fascination. It is purely fictional, but is drawn from the actual events and some of the people involved. This book almost starts at the boat's sinking though, and tells the story through the investigation hearings. I was very excited about this book from the moment I had heard of it. Unfortunately, I may have gotten a little too excited.

Everything in this book seems to move very quickly - too quickly. I felt like I didn't have a tight grasp on the characters. I couldn't understand the motivations or choices made by certain characters, especially Tess, and that troubled me. Relationships between characters seemed to grow incredible fast, and then there was a love triangle that seemed to pop up days after all the players had first met. I don't mind a love story I can believe in, but this just felt off, forced, and quite frankly - shallow.

The passages relating directly to the historical record were very interesting. Seeing and experiencing the ship's sinking was remarkable as told from Tess's point of view. I really got into it - all the anxious, frenzied emotion. I also really enjoyed reading about the hearings; as truth and lies were presented and no one really knowing which was which. I think my favorite character was "Pinky" Wade, the fearless female reported assigned to covering the disaster for the New York Times. She was a terrifically crafted character that I could believe in. I wonder what the book would have been like if told completely from her point of view?

I really wasn't blown away by this book. Granted, I am not an expert on historical fiction or historical romance, but I feel like the two elements that make this genre should flow seamlessly together, not switch back and forth like you are watching two different television shows at the same time. The premise is very intriguing, but it just didn't work for me.

The Dressmaker
By Kate Alcott
Knopf Doubleday, 2012
320 pages
Source: Publisher for an honest review

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Andrea @ Cozy Up said...

Sorry to hear that you got a bit ahead of yourself with this one. The historical aspect of it sounds really interesting, especially the story of the ship's sinking. I would like to read this just based on that, but I can understand not enjoying it based on moving so quick. I'll have to look more into it. Thanks for the review!

Christy D said...

This sounds really interesting, but I'm really picky on the historical fiction I read. I'm curious, but kind of hesitant about this one. Nice review! :)

Christa @ Hooked on Books said...

This one sounds really interesting and has a gorgeous cover, so it's too bad it didn't really click with you. It sounds like a book I might borrow from the library just to see what it's like.

Donna said...

I read this book too and was disappointed. I enjoyed the historical aspect, but wished the story had focused more on the moral question: is it required that a lifeboat go back and pick up other survivors still in the water? I'm not a fan of romances so the parts of the story that went in this direction were of little interest to me. I'm not much into fashion, but boy-o-boy would I like the dress on the book's cover.

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