I enjoy reading historical fiction and when my request for the ARC of The Gown by Jennifer Robson was approved by Harper Collins Canada, I was ecstatic. I opened the novel eagerly and settled in to learn a little more about the period in which the novel was written.
Publication Date: 1 January 2019
Genre: Historical Fiction
An enthralling historical novel about one of the most famous wedding dresses of the twentieth century—Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown—and the fascinating women who made it.
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.
There was so much to love about this novel. Robson expertly takes us to London after the Second World War and to the time when Queen Elizabeth was set to marry. We learn of the difficulties people were experiencing at that time after the war, and yet they were eagerly anticipating the royal wedding. I loved how Robson’s story weaved adroitly between the past and the present; between the hardships after the war, and the lifestyle of a modern woman who is easily able to cross the seas from Toronto to London.
I found The Gown to be an interesting read. Not only is the royal wedding referred to, but also the choices young women had after the Second World War. The experiences of Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin are explored with sensitivity and a sense of realism. I enjoyed how Heather Mackenzie’s curiosity about her grandmother brings Ann Hughes alive not only for her, but also for the readers. The novel shows us how the friendship between the two women in the past grew – a friendship that supported each woman in their time of need.
Jennifer Robson’s novel was captivating. I savoured every page and was proud of the portrait of the women portrayed – a portrait which shows how resilient a woman can be when faced with difficult choices. If you enjoy historical fiction, this novel is definitely for you. It portrays friendship and the strength of women in the face of difficulty. In addition, it gives the reader a snapshot of the life of a London embroiderer after the second world war.
I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars.
© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018
(This novel was the 88th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)