Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

The Dressmaker: A NovelThis novel left me reeling. I loved it. Why? I'm a bit of a Titanic buff. For some reason, the sinking of the magnificent ship has always fascinated me, from the cheap rivets, to the greed behind White Star to the finger pointing and cowardly, selfish people.. This novel has it all plus four very strong women.

Strong woman # 1: Tess boards the Titanic as a helper to the famous fashion designer Lady Duff Gordon. Tess is a strong woman despite her moments of irritating servitude and passiveness in her haste to pacify her employer and maintain her position. In the beginning, Tess up and quits her job, demanding pay for her services, and just waltzes out the door and down to the dock... That takes balls. Throughout the novel, Tess is faced with one dilemma after another. How can she keep Lucile (Lady Duff Gordon) happy without compromising herself or her independent thinking? Has she just exchanged one life of servitude for another? Is Lucile her friend? Get in the boat or sink? When the Titanic trials begin, Tess must choose between a man she holds dear and her employer who can pave her way to the fashion world in America. And when faced with two beaus, Tess must decide if she's going to choose a man who will help her along the way (must like Lucile did) or a man who has nothing to his name, but a lot of gumption and courage.

Strong woman # 2 is Lucile, Lady Duff Gordon. She's strong, but not very likable. She only cares for herself.. She survives on Life Boat 1... Did she and her husband bribe the sailors to abandon survivors in the ocean? Did someone in her boat beat off people in the water? Why was her boat so empty? As the trial unfolds, we find out some shocking answers. She also plays a hand in a suicide of a fellow survivor...  Meanwhile, she embroils Tess further into her web and into her upcoming fashion show..

Strong woman # 3: Molly Brown. You've heard of her.. famous for her money, her house in Colorado, her involvement in women's rights. She has a few guest appearances and almost steals the show. When she jumps into a life boat and discovers that not a single sailor in it knows how to row, she rows the boat herself. "Oh, for God's sake." Scrambling forward, Mrs. Brown grabbed an oar and pointed Tess to the one on the other side. "Let's show these cowards what it means to do your job!"

Strong woman # 4: Pinky Wade, girl reporter for the Times. She's got an ailing father at home, is sick and tired of not making equal pay to the male reporters, befriends Tess and gets to the bottom of a lot of BS going on in the Titanic case on the sides.. Namely, she's out to get Lucile. Did I mention she's also involved in the Suffragist movement? Favorite quote from Pinky: "Women gathering, marching, doing anything together makes a lot of men go crazy. They yell and scream and taunt and shake their fists. You know why? They're scared. They're scared we'll actually gain power and force them to change."

A great novel. I have not a single quibble. It was well told, entertaining, had just the right amount of history mixed in with made up drama and above all, it was full of tough women. And it made me think.. what would I do in this situation? Sink or swim? Save myself only or save others too? Do any of us really know how we will act until we face a situation like this? How many men would throw a tablecloth over their heads to pass as a woman in order to get into a life boat?

A thought to munch on: "My mother's advice was always to hold my head up. First time you let it hang, somebody hammers it down further."

Five stars. This one really made an impact on me. I received this in egalley format from netgalley.

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