Thursday, January 17, 2013
Review - The Dressmaker
Description courtesy of Goodreads:
Just in time for the centennial anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic comes a vivid, romantic, and relentlessly compelling historical novel about a spirited young woman who survives the disaster only to find herself embroiled in the media frenzy left in the wake of the tragedy.
Tess, an aspiring seamstress, thinks she's had an incredibly lucky break when she is hired by famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon to be a personal maid on the Titanic's doomed voyage. Once on board, Tess catches the eye of two men, one a roughly-hewn but kind sailor and the other an enigmatic Chicago millionaire. But on the fourth night, disaster strikes.
Amidst the chaos and desperate urging of two very different suitors, Tess is one of the last people allowed on a lifeboat. Tess’s sailor also manages to survive unharmed, witness to Lady Duff Gordon’s questionable actions during the tragedy. Others—including the gallant Midwestern tycoon—are not so lucky.
On dry land, rumors about the survivors begin to circulate, and Lady Duff Gordon quickly becomes the subject of media scorn and later, the hearings on the Titanic. Set against a historical tragedy but told from a completely fresh angle, The Dressmaker is an atmospheric delight filled with all the period's glitz and glamour, all the raw feelings of a national tragedy and all the contradictory emotions of young love.
I discovered this book after reading Katherine Howe's excellent novel, The House of Velvet and Glass. It was listed as a suggestion for people who enjoyed Howe's novel. Like many in the past few years, I have become fascinated by the story of the Titanic, and also by the time period itself. The turn of the last century and the Age Of Progress, it was a time period filled with huge changes in both technology and society, and offers a wealth of topics for writers to explore. Thus my excitement about reading The Dressmaker which covers not only the disaster itself, but the aftermath and American congressional hearings as well.
Sadly, this book left me feeling rather flat and let down. The characters in themselves are interesting, but just were not developed enough to really make care about them. I wanted to fall in love with Tess, and, at times, I wanted to despise Lucile, but the tepid writing just left me feeling ambivalent about them. And worse - it made me feel ambivalent about one of the most horrific tragedies in history, a tragedy that has brought me to tears when treated properly.
That said, I did read this book all the way to the end. It was told from an angle that seemed fresh and different - Tess was not one of the rich, first class passengers, but she wasn't one of the poor souls confined to steerage in the bowels of the ship either. She was a character on a precipice between the two, weaving her way between them yet still managing to maintain her own place in society. Hers is the character in the novel that had the most potential, the potential to really be the embodiment of the time period, and as such was the character that became, for me, the most disappointing.