The horrific events of the Titanic disaster are revisited in a new way in “The Dressmaker.” Meticulously researched, Kate Alcott crafts a tale that focuses on the aftermath of the Titanic’s sinking through the investigation that took place in New York only days after the survivors reached land. Alcott used the names of real passengers to weave a tale around Tess, a woman who, in an attempt to escape her life in the lower class of France, talks her way aboard the Titanic as Lady Duff Gordon’s maid. As the sinking provides only a backdrop to the story, the author did not spend a great deal of time on it. I was slightly disappointed with this brevity, but was soon enthralled by the survivors’ accounts of what took place in the life boats that floated near the wreckage and never went back to save additional passengers.
By using the actual transcripts of the New York investigations, the novel was a surprisingly accurate portrayal of the testimony given by the survivors about their actions once inside the lifeboats. I had been chastising the survivors for not saving as many people as possible from the water, but through their accounts, I realized how fearful they were of losing their own lives as a result of being swarmed if they rowed into the masses. Once ashore, the survivors feel shame, guilt, and are even suicidal because they lived. Tess’ story focuses on moving away from being just a maid to following her dream of becoming a dressmaker. She bounces between suitors, ultimately remaining true to herself and choosing the man she loves. Some of the reviews online were really awful to this novel, and I cannot understand why. The characters exhibited depth and emotions that made them extremely real. Despite the setting of the novel, the dialogue was clear and manageable, as opposed to being dragged down by the overly proper speech of the time.
Anyone interested in this segment of the Titanic tale would find this book enjoyable and interesting. I was glad I read it and would highly recommend it. I’m looking forward to more books by Alcott.