by Jennifer Robson
Read: June 1 – 10, 2019
Blurb: 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.
Review: This book is the June selection for the Modern Mrs. Darcy online book club. I had had it on my radar since it came out but I wasn’t entirely sure that I would like it. I was drawn by the cover, but historical fiction (while I do generally enjoy it) is not necessarily something I go out of my way to read. But I also have a fascination with the Royal Family so I kind of enjoyed that connection with this book (although that connection ends up being very, very small).
So what did I ultimately think? It was good. Somewhere between good and really good, probably. For the most part I enjoyed it, but I had some issues with one of the characters. How could Heather’s mother (Ann’s daughter) not have a few more questions about why she didn’t know more about her mother? She knew nothing about her father. She couldn’t even answer whether or not Hughes was her married or maiden name. And yet – she didn’t even seem to have any curiosity regarding the huge gaps of information she knew about her mother and her own familial history! I just cannot imagine not wanting to know more. As the reader gets the answers to those questions I can certainly understand why Ann chose to keep so much to herself, but it still irritated me.
There were some pretty heavy scenes throughout the book. Definite trigger warning right here. And honestly … I didn’t really feel like some of it was really all that necessary. It could have gone a completely different way. It almost felt thrown in there for the shock factor. It just didn’t fit with the rest of the book itself.
So now that I’ve gotten the negative out of the way, I can say that the rest of the book was really good. I enjoyed how the story unfolded, going back and forth between Ann and Miriam and Heather. I was rooting for both Ann and Miriam individually and I was sad to see that they were not able to continue their friendship long-term.
I really don’t know what else to say about this book. I enjoyed it. It’s an interesting look at the post-war years in England – something that I personally have not read much about. This book is definitely not my usual reading style, but I’m glad that I gave it a go and I would definitely recommend it!