I had no idea what to choose for this prompt! Luckily, a chat with some fellow readers suggested the sinking of the Titanic as a man-made disaster and Kate Alcott’s The Dressmaker sounded tight up my street.
What it’s about?
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.
What I think:
I had really high hopes for this book but it just didn’t quite meet my expectations.
The actually journey on the Titanic and sinking are over quite quickly. Most of the book centres on the aftermath and the public enquiry that follows.
Tess has aspirations to design and make her own clothes and idolised the rich and influential society designer Lady Lucille Duff Gordon. Chance brings themselves together as the Duff Gordons are about to set sail on Titanic’s maiden voyage.
On board, Tess meets Jim, a sailor working in the ship, and Jack, a millionaire businessman. Both of them are taken by her beauty, charm and sense of justice. Having experienced life as a down-trodden maid, Tess is determined to stand up for herself and take opportunities that come her way.
The night of the tragedy brings out the best and the worst of the passengers. Some selflessly help others, Tess herself ensuring that two young boys are rescued, and some focus on survival. The Duff Gordon’s use their status and privilege to ensure that they are safe and refuse to help others.
I really liked the premise of this no el. My issue was that I just didn’t like the characters particularly.
The Duff Gordon’s are almost pantomime like in their villainy. Selfish, rude and bribing others to protect their own reputations, there is no depth to their characters and their conversations are shallow and repetitive.
Tess seems torn between too men – neither of whom she knows particularly well and yet just weeks after the tragedy she seems forced to choose one.
I loved the characters of Pinky – tenacious female journalist covering the sinking. She is astute and intuitive, people open up to her and she uncovers some of the more unsavory details for the tragedy that individuals and White Star are trying to cover up. She is hardworking and supporting her father. And out of the characters she has the most integrity.
There’s lots of period detail and the scenes on the Titanic, however brief, are atmospheric.
This one didn’t quite live up to my high expectations.