Review: The Gown - Jennifer Robson

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My Rating: ★★★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Adult Fiction

Reading Challenge: 10 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

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.

My Thoughts —

I do genuinely love me a good historical fiction. Lately, as in the past six months, I’ve been reading a ton of WWII books. I don’t think I ever set out to specifically find WWII books, but they sort of always end up in my lap and I always devour them. I’m not sure what our fascination with wartime stories is, though I did read once someone said that it’s us trying to suffer vicariously through somebody else’s pain which I don’t think is it at all. If I had to guess, I’d say we enjoy reading wartime stories because we like to hear stories of resilience, courage, and love. Yes, there’s heartache, but that’s the reality of life. Seeing the bravery of those who fought in the war, even in fictional form, is inspiring.

Anyway, The Gown is a WWII story but in an inconspicuous way, in that it’s set a few years into the post-war era and the war isn’t the premise nor backdrop of the story. The title gives away the plot of the novel, in fact. It’s about a bridal gown, Queen Elizabeth II’s to be exact (although, back then, she was just a princess). But the novel is just so much more than just the embroidery on a dress. It’s about the friendship among women, the bond between family, grief, loss, heartbreak, betrayal, and the difficulties many people faced in the post-war years.

I thought this book was all around perfect. I enjoyed the storyline and I liked hearing about the lives of these three women, how their lives both paralleled and completely opposed one another, even across different generations. If you read my review on The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, you may remember me mentioning how I wasn’t a fan of the use of dual-narratives in that book. In this case, however, I actually thought it was really well done! And Jennifer Robson actually wrote three different storylines/narratives in this book… Triple-narrative??? I don’t know, haha. But anyway, it was very, very good!!

However, don’t expect there to be anything about royalty in this novel. There’s really nothing about the royals except for a) the fact that the dresses are made for them and b) a chapter or two where they discuss the royal wedding, but from the perspectives of the characters who in no way shape or form come into contact with any royal. So, if you were hoping for some Queenie action, sorry! This might disappoint you lol.

TW (spoilers ahead!!) — there is a scene which depicts rape. Please be cautious of this if/when you decide to read this book!!

Are you into WWII novels? If so, why?

Felicia x