Friday, January 25, 2019
The Gown by Jennifer Robson is a fictional take on a real event, the story behind the wedding dress of Princess Elizabeth set against war-torn England. World War II has been over for two years, but the recovery is ongoing. People are still reeling from tragedy. But there's nothing like a wedding to lift everyone's spirits. When the engagement is announced, the royal family commissions famed designer Norman Hartnell to design the wedding gown. While Hartnell is celebrated for his work, he doesn't do it alone. With a vast crew of seamstresses and embroiderers, Hartnell assigns his most-trusted employees to work on the gown. For best friends Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, working on the dress is the chance of a lifetime. But it comes at a price, no one on the team, including Ann and Miriam, is allowed to utter a peep about the top-secret dress. These two working-class women pour all their energy into the dress. It's a welcome distraction from their difficult pasts.
Fast forward to 2016, Heather Mackenzie is grieving the loss of her beloved grandmother, Nan. Her mother discovers a box Nan left for Heather, inside delicate swatches of embroidery. Where are they from? Queen Elizabeth II's wedding gown. What was Nan doing with these? Did she really work on the Queen's wedding gown? Yes, she really did work on that famous dress. Also in that box was a photo of Nan with Miriam, who is now a famous artist. How could Nan keep such an important part of her life from Heather and her mother? Nan's time in England is a mystery to them both. A mystery that Heather wants to solve.
The book is told from Heather, Ann, and Miriam's perspectives. Through Ann's and Miriam's eyes, the reader gets to see what life was like in 1947 England. Rationing of food is still going on, even the royal family has to do it. Her parents and brother are dead, her sister-in-law, Milly, has moved to Canada, leaving Ann struggling to keep her house. Enter Miriam, a French Jewish woman who has just moved to England. After surviving imprisonment at the hands of the Nazis, Miriam is trying to rebuild her life. A job at Hartnell's and a room in Ann's house are just what Miriam needs. The two women are at first reluctant to trust each other, but soon they form a strong bond. Their friendship is at the heart of this book. A friendship that even Heather can see and feel in the present-day.
When Heather finds Miriam, it's clear that Nan's friendship meant a lot. It was Nan who gave Miriam a place to live when she needed it the most. It was Nan who encouraged Miriam to pursue her passion as an artist. Miriam did the same for Nan. Miriam reassured Nan not to doubt herself even in the most difficult times. They were strong women on their own, but their deep friendship made Miriam and Nan better people. Miriam, Ann, and Heather are not real people but I felt like they were. I loved how the author took a real event and managed to make it a relatable story. I would definitely put this on your TBR pile.
Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.