Friday, June 20, 2014

Book Review: The Dressmaker

Another unabridged production by Books On Tape, Kate Alcott's The Dressmaker, presents a gripping story of lives changed by circumstances surrounding the sinking of the Titanic. I was swept into the tale from the very first chapter. The author did a fine job of weaving fiction with fact and creating an engaging story.

Tess Collins is determined to find a way to be recognized for her abilities as a seamstress. She is unwilling to remain in the servant position where she is forced to clean toilets, fend off the advances of the privileged son of her employer, and create lovely dresses without pay for her services. Thus, she quits one morning with the desperate hope of landing passage on the departing ship, The Titanic. She cannot believe her luck when she finagles a position working for the admirable dress designer, Lady Lucile Duff Gordon. Despite being hired as a maid, she is convinced she can prove her worth in time.

The sinking of the Titanic occurs quite early in the novel and the majority of the novel addresses the tragic events of the aftermath of the sinking. The Duff Gordons find themselves on Lifeboat One with only ten other individuals, most of them crewmen. Even though the boat is capable of holding 40 or 50 individuals, Lady Lucile urges the crewmen not to go back for survivors. Tess is torn between her loyalty to Lady Duff Gordon and her budding love for one of the sailors in Lifeboat One who felt they should have made more of an effort to save others. In the midst of this struggle, she also begins to develop feelings for the affluent businessman Jack Bremerton.

With a feisty female reporter striving to break the news of an elitist couple's selfish actions, a senator hoping to get down to the truth of what happened, and the indomitable "Unsinkable Molly Brown" weighing in her opinions, Tess must struggle to decide who she will believe. Tess is a likeable, strong main character with gumption and guts. Her supporting characters are equally interesting and varied. I felt the story moved at a good pace and kept my interest throughout. Although I think it would be highly unlikely for even a talented servant girl to end up being mentored by someone in Lady Duff Gordon's station in such a class-driven society, it was worth suspending my disbelief to devour the story Kate Alcott tells.

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