Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Gown by Jennifer Robson

The Gown has been on my TBR list for a few months. Instead of trying hard to find an ARC  and read it before the release date, I stayed patient and waited for my order to come through B&N; lucky for me it arrived earlier than I expected and I had some extra time to read. I say that because once I started reading, it was hard to put down and I stopped reading everything else to finish The Gown. 

I freely confess to being a big English Royal Family fan. Yes, I remember Princess Diana getting married--we were on vacation in Missouri at a cabin with bad TV reception, and my Mom Was. Not. Pleased. that her daughters wanted to watch TV super early in the morning. I was 14 and deep in the throes of Diana obsessing, like most teens and young women in the U.S. in 1981. And yes, I did get up at a ridiculous hour of the morning to meet friends as a local British pub to drink champagne and eat breakfast while watching Prince William and Kate get hitched in 2011. I even took the day off to do it. And again last year, I DVR'd the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan, but still got up to watch it anyway. 

So, I was excited to read this historical novel, and it really was a good dip back into my favorite genre, historical fiction. The Gown centers on two women in 1947 London: Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin. They both work for famed dress designer Norman Hartnell, embroidering dresses for the royal family and other famous, wealthy clients. World War 2 is over, but Britain is still suffering from food, clothing, and pretty much everything shortages, and the country still requires ration coupons for everything. Miriam has come to London to start over, after living through the German occupation of France, keeping herself hidden in plain sight by working for Maison Rebe, a famous embroidery house that worked with Christian Dior. Traumatized by her experiences during the war, she hopes to start over in London. Ann and Miriam become quick friends at Hartnell's, and soon are put together for a spectacular project: embroidering the gown and veil for Princess Elizabeth's wedding in November, 1947. 

The other part of this novel takes place in 2016 Canada, and with Ann's granddaughter Heather Mackenzie. Ann has recently passed away, and left Heather a box with embroidery bits that match the embroidery on Princess Elizabeth's wedding gown. The gown is in the news again as the 70th anniversary of her wedding to Prince Philip is nearing, and there's renewed interest in the royal wedding. Heather is mystified: why does her grandmother have this embroidery? What connection does she have to the wedding gown from 1947? Heather enjoyed a very close relationship with her grandmother, but her grandmother never spoke of her life in England before emigrating to Canada. Heather decides to travel to London to find out more about her grandmother's life, and what she finds there will surprise her, and change her life. 

The novel goes back and forth between 1947 and 2016, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the excitement of the upcoming wedding, the renewed spirit and energy it gave the people of England in a time where rebuilding their country was a struggle, and it seemed like life would never again be the way it was before World War 2. The details about Hartnell's, the work that went into creating the wedding gown and veil by all of those talented women was fascinating. Ann and Miriam's stories kept me reading; I couldn't wait to see what was next for them. 

This was a good mix of historical fact and fiction, and had me searching online for photos of Princess Elizabeth's gown and reading more about it. I would recommend this novel for anyone who enjoys historical fiction, novels about World War 2, fashion, and female relationships. Author Jennifer Robson has also written a few other novels: Goodnight from London, and the Great War series if you like The Gown and want to read more Jennifer Robson. 

Rating:  5/6 for a solid historical fiction novel that centers around the creation of Princess Elizabeth's wedding gown in 1947 London. Likable characters, strong female friendships, and a granddaughter's discovery of her grandmother's extraordinary life as a young woman in London kept me up late at night reading.  As always, a reminder that the elderly members of our families have stories to tell, and were young and brave in times of hardship. Sit down and discover your family history--talk to your grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio. 

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