Monday, May 7, 2012

I Heart This Book

I figured this would be an appropriate way to follow up my amazing discussion of Titanic's merits and downfalls yesterday.

(picture from here)
The Dressmaker - Kate Alcott
The fact that I loved this book is unusual, because generally, when I hear the words "historical fiction," I want to vomit.  I assumed that meant I hated the entire genre.  But this book completely proved that theory wrong. 

Tess Collins is a lowly maid with a secret passion for sewing fancy dresses.  Randomly running into the famous dressmaker Lucy Duff Gordon (who was, in fact, a REAL passenger on the ship), Tess becomes her assistant and is invited to join her aboard the great Titanic.  Well, you all know what happens then.  "Iceberg, right ahead!"  "I believe you may get your headline, Mr. Ismay."  Et cetera.  BUT that is not the whole story.  No, Lucy Duff Gordon, her husband, and Tess all escape on lifeboats (Tess on a separate one), and the whole ship-sinking thing is nicely summed up in about 5 chapters, at most.  This story is about the aftermath.

What exactly happened on Lifeboat One, the boat on which Lucy Duff Gordon was saved?  And why was there only 12 people on it, when it could have held 30 or more?  Those are the questions at the core of the novel's plot, which follows Lucy and Tess as reporters clamor for a juicy story.  There is also a subplot concerning Tess and two men who are fond of her (one rich, one poor - Cal Hockley/Jack Dawson?  Hmm...).  I don't know if I'm quite getting my point across, but it was SO GOOD.  Alcott did such a wonderful job intertwining the real with the imagined, sprinkling in true facts and characters among her novel.  I loved spotting the individuals I recognized from real life/the movie (Molly Brown...and I SAW you get on that lifeboat, Mr. Ismay!) throughout the novel.  It was just amazing, and I really appreciated the afterword, in which Alcott discusses why she felt so compelled to write this particular story about Lifeboat One.  She talks about how although about 30 lifeboats went out, only one came back to retrieve others - why is this?  These are the premises behind The Dressmaker.  Read it!  You won't regret it.

PS:  I'm still not over it.


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