New Historical Fiction for Fans of The Crown | Review of The Gown
THE GOWN: THE NOVEL OF THE ROYAL WEDDING BY JENNIFER ROBSON
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: December 31, 2018
Why I read it: I'm a big fan of books set in London, especially if they have something to do with the royal family.
First Sentence: “It was dark when Ann left work at a quarter to six, and darker still when she reached home.”
Synopsis: 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.
My Thoughts: If you like books that are about the unknown people that help orchestrate a big, well known event, this one is for you. It's the story of the embroiderers who helped create Queen (then Princess) Elizabeth’s wedding dress. It focuses on the friendship between Miriam, a French woman who's left her home county after she lost everything during WWII, and Anne, who lost her brother and parents. An alternate story line takes us to modern day Toronto, where a grieving granddaughter receives a mysterious heirloom after her grandmother's passing. She takes off to London to uncover details of how her grandmother came into possession of the item and to try and get information about the woman's early life. It is a book about the Royals, but moreso about the bonds of friendship and learning to start over after you've lost everything. I also loved how the author Incorporated real people into the story, as the embroiders worked for Mr. Hartwell, the Queen's actual dressmaker. It does have It's dark parts- there's a reason Heather doesn't know much about her grandmother's early life, but it's also a story about hope, friendship, and starting anew.
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