Monday, January 7, 2019

Review: The Gown by Jennifer Robson

If I say the word wedding gown, what do you think of? Do you think of a royal wedding gown like Princess Grace's, Princess Diana's, Duchess Catherine's, or Duchess Meghan's? If you are royal obsessed, you probably think of some of those much photographed gowns. What about Queen Elizabeth's wedding gown? Do you think of that one? If you were lucky enough to see the "Fashioning a Reign" exhibit at Buckingham Palace in 2016 like I was, you got to see the intricately embroidered gown in person and it is impressive indeed. It was the wedding gown of the future queen but what of the people who made it? Designer Norman Hartnell was credited with the gown but the numerous people who had a hand in its actual creation remain anonymous. Jennifer Robson's new novel, The Gown, focuses on two women who played a major part in the meticulous hand embroidery and on the granddaughter of one, who never knew about the important part her grandmother played in creating Princess Elizabeth's glamorous wedding gown.

Ann Hughes had worked in the embroidery room at Norman Hartnell's Mayfair studio for eleven years, creating beautiful embroidery that had graced the royals' and other wealthy patrons' clothing when Miriam Dassin, a Frenchwoman new to London, joined the atelier. The year was 1947, a year of continuing austerity after WWII  The winter was brutally cold and food was scarce but at least Ann had a roof over her head, even if her beloved sister in law, her brother's widow, had moved to Canada, leaving her lonely and in search of a roommate. As Ann and Miriam worked together and got to know each other, Ann invited Miriam to move in. These two very different women became good friends as well as co-workers, sharing their secrets and their heartbreaks, the horrors of war and of life afterwards.

In 2016, in Toronto, journalist Heather Mackenzie is mourning the loss of her Nan. When she discovers several beautiful floral embroidery samples left to her by her grandmother, she decides to research her Nan's life before she moved to Canada, a life never discussed with her daughter or granddaughter. And when Heather discovers that the embroideries match those on Queen Elizabeth's wedding dress, she is more determined than ever to uncover the past her grandmother never shared, a past that will lead her to the celebrated artist Miriam Dassin and to the realization that her grandmother had a hand in the celebrated wedding gown.

There are three different narratives weaving together in this novel, Ann and Miriam in 1947 and Heather in 2016. Ann and Miriam's stories focus on the life of working class young women in the aftermath of the war, their growing friendship, and their dating lives while Heather's story centers mainly on her search to learn more about her late Nan, to uncover the mystery she left behind. Ann and Miriam's stories are a bit more engaging than Heather's, offering more tension and drama than the modern day narrative does. That the 1947 narratives offer a look into the lives of two women who gave their skill and their quiet, unquestionable loyalty in the making of the princess's wedding dress, women who are otherwise anonymous, makes for fascinating reading. Although the wedding gown is central to the story, and to Heather's discovery of information on her Nan, this is as much the story of the necessity of friendship as anything. It is their friendship that helps Miriam confront the nightmare of her past and it is their friendship that gives Ann the courage to do what she ultimately needs to do. It is also that friendship that opens doors and the future to Heather. Readers or Anglophiles looking for engrossing historical fiction, for a tale of women's friendship, or for well done multiple narratives will find this a quick and rewarding read.

For more information about Jennifer Robson and the book, check out her webpage, like her author page on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter or Instagram. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and William Morrow for sending me a copy of the book for review.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not necessarily obsessed with the royals but I DO love gorgeous wedding dresses and this one was definitely gorgeous!

    Thanks for being on the tour!


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