Thursday, January 3, 2019

Julie's Review: The Gown

Author: Jennifer Robson
Series: None
Publication Date: December 31, 2018
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 400
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Brilliant
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab

Summary: 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.  

Review: With the obsession with the new Royals (Wills/Kate; Harry/Meg) and then The Crown, it is no wonder the marketing of this book will be more geared towards the "gown" but this book is about friendship, sacrifice and love. The wedding gown is the glue that brings the 2 women together. This is about women learning to be independent and fighting for the lives they want, not necessarily what society thinks women want.

Ann has worked at Norman Hartnell for 11 years and is one of their best at intricate embroidery. She lives with her sister-in-law in Barking and commutes daily. She loves her job and life even if London is on hard times with rationing and coal shortage. She's just gotten done making a ton of clothes for the royal family as they tour Africa and is looking forward to fulfilling other orders.

Miriam has just emigrated from France and is looking for work in a fashion house given her history working in a top one plus a letter of recommendation from a top designer. It is obvious that Miriam has a sad personal history but we won't learn of the details until later.

It is the pairing of Miriam and Ann together at the fashion house, when the story really starts to take off. I loved how their friendship came together and how they slowly opened themselves up to each other and then to others. Heather's story fills in the spaces of what we don't get from Ann and Miriam's points of view. I love how the stories end up intersecting.

The story of Queen Elizabeth's wedding gown is fascinating and you can tell that Ms. Robson went to great lengths to get this story right.

I just loved this book. It was the best way to end my reading year in 2018. I highly recommend it.



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