Sometimes you pick up a book, wanting to enjoy it... perhaps based on a review or the cover, maybe the summary or even just the basic plot description. I try to only pick books to read that I think I would like, however sometimes it doesn't quite work out for me.
No matter how much I wanted to like The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott, I just couldn't. Now, you'll notice that my review is three (3) stars. To me, that means that I didn't like it, but I didn't hate it either. My overall reaction is ambivalence. While I'm not cursing the time lost in reading through the 306 pages of this hardcover, it didn't sweep me away and take me on an adventure either, nor did it drop me into a brightly-colored historical retelling.
The Dressmaker is historical fiction, glancing over the historical aspects with glaring inaccuracies while flaunting the fiction aspect. Our protagonist is Tess Collins, a young lady who prefers to sew instead of clean, running away from a job as a maid to become... a maid. The upside of her career change in that she will be a maid to an established designer while on a journey to America, just a few days of comparative luxury on the Titanic.
Yes, this is another book about the Titanic. And while I love read about the Titanic, I really have to wonder, why does every author feel it necessary to throw in a romance? Do they think that the disaster where so many people lost their lives won't be dramatic enough without a love triangle or fated romance in the mix?
The majority of the book is set after the survivors make their way back to the United States, showing the inquiries made into the event. While a large amount of the information about the inquires is accurate, some major plot points - such as Lady Duff Gordon being called to testify - were inserted for the sake of the book. A few of the actual survivors are mentioned and others brought to life, but what bothers me the most is the way that Tess somehow gets inserted into everything. In the book, she is suddenly Lady Duff Gordon's maid, and gets separated and put on a different lifeboat (thus creating the mystery of what actually happened on the lifeboat one) when her real-life counterpart was in the same boat as the Duff Gordons. She also just happened to be the person who saves the two children later known as the Titanic Orphans... and the author even manages to mess that part of the story up, having the father introduce the boys by their correct first names instead of the pseudonyms they actually traveled under, though she used the false last name correctly.
Another thing that bothered me is how Tess is hired as a maid, fails horribly at this job, and yet all seems to be forgiven by Lucile, even to the extent of Tess' room being moved from steerage up to first class. Once in New York, Tess is put IN CHARGE of Lady Duff Gordon's workshop just days before her fashion show, and is somehow even encouraged to create a dress for the show... and this was just a poor maid that they hired on the dock before boarding the Titanic? It just isn't believable.
The ending managed to tie everything together, but was entirely predictable. The saving grace is Pinky, the reporter assigned to the inquiries, who brings humanity and personality to the book.
In the end, I'm left with a feeling of satisfaction that I finished the book, but no actual enjoyment. Perhaps if the romance had been less predictable, or if Tess' interactions with Lucile Duff Gordon has been more realistic, I would have enjoyed it a bit more.