Friday, May 04, 2012

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

Completion Date: April 1, 2012
Reason for Reading: Review Copy from Random House Canada/Titanic Week at Historical Tapestry.
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.
Today is a buddy review with Marg from Adventures of an Intrepid Reader. The post originally ran on Historical Tapestry in its entirety for Titanic Week, but we have divided it into two parts to post on our own blogs. I have the first part and Marg will be posting the second part on her blog.

K: The Dressmaker has had a lot of buzz surrounding it since its release. It started because of good publicity and positive reviews, but a bit of controversy has happened as well. The big claim for the book was that it was a stunning debut, but it has since been revealed that Kate Alcott is a pen name and this is not her first book after all. She was just a struggling author who was having a run of bad luck, wrote this wonderful book, and then couldn’t sell it. That is my understanding anyway. I have had my copy since before the controversy, so I don’t really care about it so much. I just think it is interesting that this book only appealed to publishers because it was a debut. I wanted to read it because of the positive reviews and because it is a fictionalized telling of Lady Duff Gordon. It is almost fitting that Alcott chose to write about Duff Gordon because controversy surrounded her, too. Why did you want to read The Dressmaker?

M: I had forgotten about the controversy about the author’s identity. I was interested in reading the book because of the Titanic connection. I haven’t gone on the reading odyssey about the Titanic that you have, but I was sufficiently interested to choose one book to read and hopefully enjoyed.

Having said that the Titanic was the main interest, I was somewhat surprised by how little the events on the boat and during the sinking actually took up in terms of page space. Did that surprise you?

K: I had forgotten about the controversy when I went to read the book, but I couldn’t help thinking about it when it came to reading the book. It was just one of those things.

As to your question, not really. As the guy is alway saying, you know what is going to happen, so why continue to read books about the Titanic. I have found a lot of the fiction that has came out this year has the Titanic as a backdrop, but it is about more than the actual event. I think it is the only way it can stay fresh and justify countless books about it. There is only so many things you can say about the ship sinking and keep it interesting. (To be even more honest, I think some books stuck something Titanic related in just to cash in on the centennial, but that’s just me.)

So, let’s get down to business. What did you think of the book overall?

M: Sure you know what was going to happen, but I think that spending a little bit more time on the disaster itself would have helped me to care more about the characters. I suspect you are right that there are more than a few books out there that were put out just to cash in on the centenary remembrances.

In terms of the actual book, I was …. underwhelmed.

I really liked hearing about the reporter trying to find out what happened, and even about the hearings, but I was disappointed by the love triangle which didn’t feel realistic to me, especially one aspect of the triangle!

The writing was okay - it was certainly an easy enough read, but the execution of the plot didn’t really work all that well for me. How was it for you?

K: I don’t know what I was. This is the last of the Titanic books I have read for me to review ,and I finished it before many of the others, because I didn’t know what I wanted to say about it. When it came to actually reading it I found it to be a page-turner, but I have no idea why. I was happy to see a book about Lady Duff Gordon because there is so much mystery surrounding her and her husband. I have never read the testimonies from the reviews, but I do know that Lady Duff and her husband were two of only 12 people in a lifeboat. Many of the other lifeboats were not full either, but this is the one that received the most attention. It has been said that money was paid to the crew members in the boat. The Duff Gordon’s claimed it was because the moment the Titanic sank, the crew stopped getting paid and they wanted to help them out. The more interesting story is that they paid them to not go back for others. And, the picture really happened, too, but not until afterwards. They didn’t get on the Carpathia and immediately pose. The picture followed the handing out of money in a very public manner. I just can’t see if the money was paid for nefarious reasons such a big deal would be made of it.

So, I guess to get back to your question, this book bothered me. The Duff Gordons have been made some of the scapegoats of history as well as others from the ship, but nothing was ever conclusively proven. There was no innocent until proven guilty. The controversy surrounding the Gordons really did destroy their reputations and he really did leave and move back to England. I think I just hoped for a book that didn’t vilify. Other than the question of the money, their boat was not the only one that wasn’t full and only one lifeboat went back and they waited until the screams died down. I also didn’t like the love triangle, but we can discuss that more after. What did you think of the story of Lifeboat 1?

Don't forget to visit Marg's Blog for the second part of the discussion.

My thanks to Random House Canada for my copy of this book.


  1. Oh, you guys are so into Titanic here and on Historical Tapestry, I feel :-) I am so sorry I haven't emailed you yet. I just wanted to drop a line to let you know that I dropped the ball. I leave tomorrow early morning for vacation, so if you don't hear from me later today, you are, er, unlikely to hear from me for some time.

    BUT that doesn't mean I don't still think of you!

  2. Underwhelmed?? Oh no! I think I have this one on my Kindle. Who knows when I'll get to it now!


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