The Dressmaker [Kate Alcott]

Torn between her dreams and the truth, she was faced with an impossible choice . . .

Tess, an aspiring seamstress, is stunned at her luck when the famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon hires her to be a personal maid on the Titanic‘s doomed voyage. When disaster strikes, Tess is one of the last people allowed on a lifeboat – her employer also survives. On dry land, savage rumours begin to circulate: did Lady Duff Gordon save herself at the expense of others?

Tess’s dream of becoming a skilled dressmaker is within her grasp but now she is faced with a terrible choice. Suddenly she finds herself torn between loyalty to the fiery woman who could help her realise her ambitions and the devastating truth that her mentor may not be all she seems.

My thoughts on the novel:  The Dressmaker isn’t just another book about the Titanic. Much has already been said and written about the tragic event, but this novel offers a fresh and compelling new perspective by focusing on the aftermath of the shipwreck — especially the U.S Senate hearings, the inquiry and all the press scandals. From the characters to the plot and the writing style, everything is of top quality. The reader cannot but feel as though he/she were travelling back in time one chapter after the other. It is a riveting, engrossing novel that cannot leave you unmoved.

The part taking place onboard the Titanic is beautifully written, and deeply emotional when the actual sinking occurs. But, the rescue on the Carpathia isn’t the end of troubles for the main characters. From New York to Washington, they find themselves dealing with press scandals, public humiliation and political turmoil. The context is very much detailed, you can almost sense how it must have been like living there at the beginning of the twentieth century.

What’s striking is how the author leads the reader to reflect on the notion of bravery, especially when a scandal broke about the almost empty Lifeboat One and some alleged bribes. How would one react if they found themselves in a profoundly distressful situation? Would they act as heroes or would they let fear dictate their behavior? Are there really villains or simply flawed human beings trying to survive a terrible ordeal? The Dressmaker offers an enlightening perspective on the choices we all make, especially in dire situations.

I have been deeply moved by the excellent narrative, the underlying messages and the complexity of the characters. Tess is an intriguing character. She’s as strong-willed as she is sensitive. I was particularly enthused about the ending she gets. Some would say that she’s a clueless ingenue for being distraught by having not one, but two love interests. If you look beyond the surface, the author is sending a strong message about women’s possibilities in life. She embodies a modern, inspiring female figure. As for Lady Lucile Duff Gordon, you might initially believe she’s a caricature because of how arrogant and condescending — borderline bipolar — she comes across. But, do read till the end, there’s more to it than you might think. Lastly, I’ll mention the character of Pinkie, a fearless, independent reporter who will make your day when you read the final chapters.

The Dressmaker is a vivid, touching, deeply emotional novel that I strongly recommend.

A true gem not to be missed!

My score:  ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥