Review: The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

The Dressmaker: A NovelThe Dressmaker: A Novel by Kate Alcott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a history buff, the Titanic fascinates me. The tragic events of the ship’s maiden and only voyage have captured imaginations for generations. When I read the premise for The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott, it intrigued me; it revolves around the hearings that followed the sinking. I had to read it.

A vivid, romantic, and relentlessly compelling historical novel about a spirited young woman who survives the sinking of the Titanic only to find herself embroiled in the tumultuous aftermath of that great tragedy.

The Dressmaker is a well-written story grounded by tragedy, power and hope. I’m no expert on the trials that followed Titanic’s demise. Alcott took “the testimony in this book[…]directly from the transcripts of the U.S. Senate hearings.” Some of the main characters were actual survivors.

The crux of the story revolves around Tess Collins and her journey to make a better life for herself, and what a story it is. She gains passage on the Titanic at the very last minute; in that moment, it was a stroke of luck. She survives the sinking of the unsinkable ship and reaches her destination. More luck? The career she’s dreamed of is at her fingertips, but for a price. Compelling, is it not?

The character of Lucile Duff-Gordon can only be described as selfish, unstable and tedious. Tess’ inability to make a decision, instead holding fast to the easy path frustrated me. Some would say the writing worked to create that emotion. Maybe, but I found no joy in that particular aspect of the story.

The secondary character, Pinky Wade was far more interesting. No matter what obstacles appeared before her, she found a way to circumvent and move forward. As Alcott is a journalist, it makes sense that the reporter would be the most well-rounded. Jim Bonney could have been so much more; I felt there were unexplored depths to his character.

For the most part, I enjoyed reading The Dressmaker. It’s a testament to survival and reaching for one’s dreams, as well as the evils of wielding too much power. We never meet the wisest of all the characters, and yet it’s her words, words written to her daughter Tess, that make the reading of this book worthwhile: “You are not foolish to try.”

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