The Dressmaker is the story of a fictional young woman (Tess) with a big talent and big dreams. She gains a coveted spot on the Titanic by talking her way into a job with real life character Lady Duff Gordon.
The boat sinks. Some survive, most don't.
Lady Duff Gordon and her husband, other real life character Molly Brown, Tess and other fictional characters survive. The main plot of the book is the fall-out and aftermath of the Titanic's sinking. Real life character US Senator (Michigan) William Alden Smith realizes immediately that things went disastrously (& possibly preventably) wrong and launches immediate hearings.
All of this is fascinating & worthy of a book. And the author does a credible job with her plot. I enjoyed the book and I would recommend it; but throughout most of the book (as other reviewers have noted), the characters were rather one-dimensional; character development was not fully explained and there were some "leaps of faith" the reader should not have had to make.
But then, within the last 50 pages or so, the real theme of the book emerges. This is a book about people & how people react to various situations - from a young woman who must choose between two men who love her to a woman who cannot see beyond her own self-interest to how people react to the unspeakable tragedy and unimaginable fear of having their world sink literally right out from under them. Its easy to cast stones with the perfection of 20/20 hindsight, but how would we react? What would our motivation be? How concerned would we be for our fellow man? How could the very natural desire to survive be seen as cold & selfish?
Different perspectives, different motivations, the assumptions and interpretations of others' behaviors that may or may not be correct and the resulting damage such assumptions can cause - these are the weighty themes that subtly and cleverly come to light by the end of the book.
"See how we piece our stories together? To redeem ourselves, I suppose."
Thus says one of the secondary characters. And isn't it the truth? Set against the backdrop of a horrific event we can read about, but never really understand, we are faced with the blunt fact of "perspective."
The book, although interesting, was rather flat until things started to really come together and the overall theme developed. The book will stay with me for awhile as I think about my own life and choices and interpretations and judgments and assumptions.
This is the story of Tess Collins who is eager to leave her life as a maid behind in England. She has talent at being a seamstress with an eye for design, and as she looks for a new life in America she conveniently bumps into one of the biggest designers of her time, Lady Lucile Duff Gordon. They both sail together to America on the Titanic, where Tess is immediately thrust into the world of haves and have-nots. She finds herself stuck somewhere in between, with two men from opposite ends of the social class who take notice of Tess.
While Tess tries to piece together what she is capable of and where she belongs, she is at the beck and call of the imperious Lady Duff Gordon. Lady Duff Gordon is the epitome of a snobbish shrew with a dash of psychosis tendencies, with a husband who does nothing to improve upon this picture. Tess realizes their duplicity but she struggles with the fact that this woman is the only one who can immediately offer Tess a dream come true.
However, the aftermath of the Titanic must be dealt with as inquiries and testimony are required from the survivors. What happened on Lifeboat One is one of the most scandalous and newsworthy topics, as it is rumored that the Duff Gordons bribed the men on their lifeboat as they sailed to safety, not allowing any stragglers from oily blackness of the sea on their boat. And covering all of the news is Times reporter Pinky, a name I detested, as she was deserving of much more. Pinky was the character who strung them all together, from Tess to the crewmen and the rest of the personal stories she covered, who had a side story of her own.
A strong plot line and always an intriguing historical event is the fate of the Titanic. The Dressmaker has a lot to live up to, and even though some of the characters bear the factual names of those in reality, the driving force of the story is the romance between Tess and her wishy-washiness between her two loves. I cannot think of anything to complain of writing-wise, but the characters that the author created surrounding this tragic event could have used a bit more fleshing out. While there is still a lot of potential for this debut author, this is the one story that could have been treated as an epic saga given all the famous notables and the look at human nature in the face of tragedy (as well as corporate cover up, etc). With the many lives lost on the Titanic, this should have been a story that pulled at my heart and make me go through a box of tissues, but instead it was simply what the titles implies, a story of a dressmaker. And even with the hope for something more, I did enjoy the dressmaker's story as it was set against that intriguing backdrop of the Titanic with a broad spectrum of characters.
I also wanted to add that I had read another review before reading the book which stated there were French phrases, or conversations, which encumbered her enjoyment of the book. I was so looking forward to these French phrases, but I remember only seeing two.
I read Danielle Steel's No Greater Love back in the '90s which was my first real intro to the Titanic, and I remember being deeply moved by it, reading it several times. Then of course came the blockbuster film with DeCaprio. What novel would you recommend that really knocked your socks off that was set against the Titanic? I would love to read more about it and the real people aboard the ship, and I need your help finding that story, as The Dressmaker didn't fulfill that need for me. Edited to add that I found out after the fact that Patricia O'Brien actually wrote this.. and knowing that, I am even just a bit disappointed. She needs to dig a little deeper and pull out some real emotions on these big topics. I know she can do it!
Nice historical fiction about the sinking of the Titanic and the US hearings that were held in the immediate aftermath, with a focus on Lady Lucy Duff Gordon and her husband Cosmo. Central to the action is fictional Tess Collins who travels with the couple as a maid/seamstress. Tess hopes Lady Duff Gordon will open doors for her in America, but her loyalty is torn when confronted with stories about how her employers acted during the shipwreck. I liked the character of Pinky Wade, the intrepid Times reporter, who fights for a good story and women's rights while taking care of her ailing dad.
With the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic being recognized this year ("celebrated" doesn't seem an appropriate word to use here), there is a slew of Titanic-themed fiction and non-fiction being released over the next few months. The Dressmaker is one of those novels.
I found this story of an aspiring dressmaker/maid who is brought on to the Titanic at the last minute to be engaging, and a fresh take on the Titanic story. Tess Collins runs away from her position as a maid in Cherbourg, France and ends up on the dock before the sailing of the Titanic. In an unlikely turn of events, she is hired on the spot by the aristocratic Lady Duff-Gordon, famous dressmaker and head of the House of Lucile.
Tess is thrilled and honored that Lady Duff Gordon has hired her as her maid, and hopes to parlay that good fortune into one day becoming a dressmaker herself. What she doesn't bargain for is the sinking of the Titanic, and the reprecussions of events in a lifeboat that continue to have an impact on her and Lady Duff Gordon's lives long after they have been rescued.
Like any good romance, Tess ends up with two suitors - the good-hearted but poor sailor Jim Bonney, and the rich, aristrocratic divorcee Jack Bremerton. Her involvement with Mr. Bremerton (the rich older man) again seems somewhat unlikely. It's these types of things that prevented me from giving this book more than 3.5 stars, in that I just couldn't find some of the things that happen to Tess to be believeable.
Still, if you can look past those things, you'll find this an interesting piece of historical fiction, that keeps you intrigued until the end. If you enjoy Titanic-themed fiction, I'd definitely recommend picking this one up.
I really enjoyed this book about some survivors of the Titanic and what happened after they were rescued and taken to New York. As rumors circulated about the choices some made in their lifeboats, a Senate inquiry begins right away.
It is a history of fact, as it is taken from the transcripts of the Hearings and some of the characters in the book are real. Even Margaret Brown who went on to become "The Unsinkable Molly Brown", who helped load people into lifeboats as she and the other women in lifeboat 6 worked together to row and to keep spirits up.
The book was hard to put down and I was sorry to see it end. I do recommend this book, I was engrossed!