The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Title: The Dressmaker
Author: Kate Alcott
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Doubleday, 2012
Source: NetGalley
Read for: Review

Tess has spent most of her life working as a housemaid, but her true passion lies in fashion -- designing and sewing beautiful creations. When chance lands her as a lady's maid on the ship Titanic for Lady Lucile Duff Gordon, a world-famous designer who also built herself up from low circumstances, Tess feels as if she has finally been given a chance. However, when Titanic sinks, rumors begin to leak out about the Duff Gordons and their behavior on the so-called Millionaire's boat, a lifeboat not even at half capacity. Tess is leery of their behavior and not sure she wants to be connected with it. In addition, her heart is conflicted as her attention is sought by a wealthy, charming millionaire and a sailor. Should Tess follow her heart or her only opportunity to achieve her dream?

With the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic last month, my interest was definitely piqued with The Dressmaker. While I don't consider myself to be any kind of Titanic buff, I love the movie with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio (haven't watched the Julian Fellowes miniseries, though. Worth the time?) and was looking forward to this one, especially with its portrayal of some of the aftermath of the sinking of the unsinkable ship. The Dressmaker proved to be an interesting adventure into the Titanic, albeit not one to join the ranks of my favorite books.

I enjoyed the vivid descriptions of the scenery of the Titanic and later, the fabulous gowns in Lucile's salon. While at times the writing seemed to meander, I was definitely visually immersed in the world Kate Alcott created. The scenes were vivid in my mind. The unfortunate flip side of this is that occasionally I would feel impatient, as if the plot was not moving forward quickly enough.

I also enjoyed the portrayal of the characters, particularly in their interactions with one another. I felt that the conversations were realistic, the at times heated interchanges between characters believable. At times the characters themselves seemed flat, although their dialogue was dynamic. The most multi-faceted character was probably Lucile, with her selfishness and ambition tied to a sense of sentimentality for her past and real love for her work; however, when the different sides of her personality were presented, I felt as if a card was being flipped over. The transitions were not natural, and so the two sides of her personality never really came together or felt realistic to me. While Tess also undergoes some changes in her life and point of view, while she sacrifices some of her ambitions to follow her heart, she also seemed somehow flat to me. I liked her, but felt as if she was someone I would only be able to make small talk with.

The Dressmaker was an interesting read, but lacked the momentum and character development to make it a truly memorable read for me. However, lovers of Titanic stories will definitely find a story of value here.

3 stars

Warnings: Slight innuendo, but nothing much.


  1. I can't handle stories about the titanic. Sorry but seriously, people, get over it! Ships sink all the time people die all the time why do I have to hear about it over and over?! Sorry, rant over. :(

    1. This has probably been a rough couple of months for you, then, with the Titanic anniversary!

  2. I love the movie too but am definitely not a big Titanic fan, which made me interested to pick this book up and hopefully learn more about the historical personages there. For me, the weakest element was the love triangle. I didn't really feel anything for either men and I was far more drawn to the complicated relationship between Tess and Lucile.


    1. I liked Jim in the situation but in some ways I felt as if there were too many things going on in the book. It needed some focus -- instead of dealing with the Titanic aftermath AND designing dresses AND dealing with Lucile's craziness AND press reporters AND two men I think we still could have gotten a good story with maybe three of those elements and there would have been a deeper focus and understanding of all of them.


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