The Gown by Jennifer Robson

I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Gown by Jennifer RobsonThe Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson
Published by William Morrow on December 31, 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
AmazonThe Book Depository

From the internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France comes 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.

“Millions will welcome this joyous event as a flash of color on the long road we have to travel.”—Sir Winston Churchill on the news of Princess Elizabeth’s forthcoming wedding

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.

Confession the first: I’m not really that interested in the actual royal family or royal weddings. Like, even when I was younger and would fantasize about randomly meeting Prince Harry and falling in love with him, I really didn’t know anything about them. Confession the second: I largely found The Crown boring. Everyone recommended it, but it’s so slow and I never got invested in the characters (particularly Philip—fuck Philip). As such, I debated about requesting The Gown, but I do love historical fiction and I’ve been meaning to read Robson. Good choice, past self!

When I was younger, I devoured all the WWII historical fiction I could get my hands on, but in the last few years, I’ve very much burnt out on that subgenre of historical fiction. I really like that The Gown is set in the period after WWII as people deal with the aftereffects and try to move forward. You don’t see as much fiction set during that period because wars make such a dramatic background for fiction, but this period is fascinating too. While it’s not as overtly dramatic, the political landscape is fascinating, especially because you haven’t read it a million times.

The Gown is told in three points of view, which trade off consistently. The first is Ann Hughes, an English embroiderer. Ann’s good, hardy English stock, hardworking, honest and kind. Briefly, early on, you learn about how her mom gave her serious shit for going for a job as an embroiderer and made her feel like shit, and it immediately made my heart ache for Ann. It also made me respect her so much for carrying on and being so loving and kind in spite of her toxic mother. When her sister-in-law moves to Canada, she tells her to go, even though it would be easier for Ann to convince her to stay. Ann’s such a genuinely good person. Ann’s plot line kinda broke my heart tbh, but more on that later.

The second POV is Miriam Dassin, an embroiderer from France. She emigrates because she cannot bear to live in France anymore after everything that happened during Nazi occupation. Ann’s Jewish, and, though she managed to avoid detection, her family didn’t, and she’s haunted by everything that happened and dealing with survivor’s guilt of having continued to work and live like “normal.” Miriam’s a badass, intelligent, enormously talented, fierce af defending her friends, and strong of will and character. Of the three heroines, I felt the closest bond to Miriam.

The third POV is Heather Mackenzie in the present day. Her grandmother, Ann, has just recently passed and left her a box of embroideries. Neither Heather nor her mother knew that Ann embroidered, and Heather, having just been laid off, sets off to England to research her beloved grandmother who had a whole life in England none of the family knew about.

The first half of the book went rather slowly for me. Unless I’m really into each POV, switching POVs makes me want to take a break after each chapter, and it’s not a high action book. Instead, there’s a lot of detail about each woman’s daily life and the embroidery work. It’s very good but didn’t captivate me. At about the halfway point, love interests appear for each girl and everything begins to come together, and I flew through the rest of the book.

In some ways, The Gown reminded me of Hidden Figures, because both are about talented women history tends to ignore. Never before had I thought about all the women behind all those famous male designers. I love books and movies that draw focus to all the work women did, only for all the praise to go to men. I also like that it’s focused in on this microcosm of history, with the big political happenings of the day and the actual royal wedding a sort of distant backdrop heard over the wireless after work and before bed.

The resolution of the plot lines was satisfying though very much bittersweet. I liked the romances, particularly Heather’s, and I even liked the open-endedness there (as well as the way Miriam was adorably shipping it). But I also liked the handling of the hard stuff. View Spoiler »

In the end, this book made me feel so many feelings. The three POVs ended up feeling very, very necessary, and they all have their own independent, very disparate stories that meld together very well. The Gown is excellent historical fiction, probably especially so if you’re actually into royal weddings and/or The Crown. :-p

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

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