Mini-Review — The Gown

14 Nov

I was in England during the week of mourning for Queen Elizabeth. It was a unique experience to see the throngs of people who came out to honor their monarch. There were everyday people from everywhere — she certainly touched a lot of lives. My book club chose The Gown by Jennifer Robson, which didn’t feature the then Princess Elizabeth as a main character, but rather all of the fanfare surrounding her wedding and in particular the making of her gown. The book is told in two timelines with fictional main characters that were true reflections of the era — two women finding a way in the world after the devastation of WWII. The novel brought the time and place to life with rich historical detail. I would call The Gown women’s fiction because of its emphasis on women’s changing roles in a new world, while fighting against obstacles and prejudices from the past. Both characters face struggles, some heart-breaking, with determination and an eye to a hope-filled future. The modern day thread is a smaller part of the book, yet I found it be a wonderful way to bring all the storylines to a satisfying conclusion. (Special note, including a spoiler: for regular readers of my blog, this is a general market offering. There is a scene that features some sexual abuse some may find triggering.)

Recommended.

Audience: adults.

(I purchased this book for my Kindle. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

London, 1947: Besieged by the harshest winter in living memory, burdened by onerous shortages and rationing, the people of postwar Britain are enduring lives of quiet desperation despite their nation’s recent victory. Among them are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Together they forge an unlikely friendship, but their nascent hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime honor: taking part in the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown.

Toronto, 2016: More than half a century later, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of a set of embroidered flowers, a legacy from her late grandmother. How did her beloved Nan, a woman who never spoke of her old life in Britain, come to possess the priceless embroideries that so closely resemble the motifs on the stunning gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her wedding almost seventy years before? And what was her Nan’s connection to the celebrated textile artist and holocaust survivor Miriam Dassin?  

With The Gown, Jennifer Robson takes us inside the workrooms where one of the most famous wedding gowns in history was created. Balancing behind-the-scenes details with a sweeping portrait of a society left reeling by the calamitous costs of victory, she introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines, their points of view alternating and intersecting throughout its pages, whose lives are woven together by the pain of survival, the bonds of friendship, and the redemptive power of love.

From Jennifer Robson (via Amazon):

An academic by background, a former editor by profession, and a lifelong history geek, I am lucky enough to now call myself a full-time writer. I’m the author of three novels set during and after the First World War: Somewhere in France, After the War is Over, and Moonlight Over Paris, and a contributor to the forthcoming anthology Fall of Poppies…Stories of Love and the Great War.

I first learned about the Great War from my father, acclaimed historian Stuart Robson, and later served as an official guide at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial at Vimy Ridge, France. I studied French literature and modern history as an undergraduate at King’s College at the University of Western Ontario, then attended Saint Antony’s College at the University of Oxford, where I obtained my doctorate in British economic and social history. While at Oxford I was a Commonwealth Scholar and SSHRC Doctoral Fellow.

For a number of years I worked as an editor but am now fortunate enough to consider myself a full-time writer. I am represented by Kevan Lyon of the Marsal Lyon Agency.

I live in Toronto, Canada, with my husband and young children, and share my home office with Ellie the sheepdog and Sam the cat.

2 Responses to “Mini-Review — The Gown”

  1. Gretchen November 14, 2022 at 8:16 pm #

    How interesting to be in England during that time! This is a book that I have been curious about, and your review has me intrigued. Sounds fascinating!

    • rbclibrary November 14, 2022 at 8:39 pm #

      My whole group liked it.

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