The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

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The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Susmita Chatto
Reviewed by Susmita Chatto
Summary: A novel combining glamour, fashion, career struggles and moral dilemmas in the aftermath of the Titanic.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: February 2013
Publisher: Sphere
ISBN: 978-0751549232

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I’ve always avoided stories with a strong link to the Titanic; it’s such a depressing and distressing topic, especially for those of us with an active imagination! However, I was attracted to this novel for different reasons. Telling the story of Tess, a talented seamstress looking for a break, the core relationship is one that is not often explored – that between employee and employer. Designer Lady Duff Gordon takes Tess on as her maid on the Titanic and quickly becomes a mentor and example as Tess develops her craft. But what happened on the voyage threatens their relationship and Tess finds herself facing all kinds of moral dilemmas.

Alcott has put together a large cast for this atmospheric and absorbing novel. Looking mostly at the Titanic story for the after-effects and problems faced by survivors, we meet all kinds of people at the inquiry afterwards, and their fascinating perspectives on life, death and the pursuit of profit are completely relevant to the modern day. We also get a glimpse of worlds that are developing for women, with careers as designers, journalists and screenwriters becoming possible at the same time as women are fighting for suffrage.

There are times when political conundrums could almost place us in a modern world, if not for the still ingrained attitude of bowing and scraping to your employer. However, this too has relevance for the modern day, with talk of unions and the relationship between Tess and her employer, who rapidly becomes her mentor. This relationship is quite fascinating; working closely with someone can often place us in a situation where we are not exactly friends, but form strong bonds nonetheless – and those bonds cause personal and professional conundrums which we battle while trying not to overstep the mark.

The story is also rich in illustrative power; the lushness of the era is evoked and we are never far away from the luxury of the world inhabited by the Duff Gordons and the aesthetic pleasure that comes with it. Weave in the excitement felt by a young girl living in New York for the first time – and indeed in a time where it first became accessible and possible – and you have all the ingredients for a sophisticated story which will appeal to readers for many reasons. As a work of historical fiction, it does well and explores a fascinating period and a defining moment, but without pushing the disaster angle too hard. Indeed, I found it quite fascinating to hear people demanding cups of tea in decent china after being rescued and safely aboard the Carpathia!

This would make a fantastic holiday read and would appeal to readers of all kinds of fiction, with an ensemble cast and a rich storyline that is highly rewarding.

If this book appeals thn you might also enjoy Netherwood by Jane Sanderson.

Buy The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott at

Buy The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott at


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