The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson

It’s been a while since I read or listened to something regarding the British royal family, and The Gown had been sitting on my Kindle for a while, so I decided to give it a go. I knew the book wasn’t going to be about Princess Elizabeth, but the dressmakers who made her gown. This is another case where I wondered why I waited so long to move it up on the TBR pile.

“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?

The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding (Amazon) (AbeBooks) is set in 1947, where Miriam Dassin and Ann Hughes are embroiderers working for Norman Hartnell, who designed many of the royal family’s outfits. Of course, it was natural that his shop would be picked to make the wedding dress for Princess Elizabeth. Miriam and Ann are tasked with the intricate stitching on the gown. After the royal wedding, Ann and Miriam go their separate ways, Miriam to great success as celebrated artist, and Ann as the life of a mother and grandmother in Canada.

The Gown is also set in Canada in 2016, when Ann’s granddaughter is given a box of her late grandmother’s belongings that had her name on it, Heather. The box contains swatches of intricately hand-stitched flowers. Heather wants to know more about them; her grandmother had never talked about her life in England or her work, so it’s all a big mystery to her granddaughter. Through a series of clues, Heather begins to wonder if these samples have anything to do with Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding gown.

The intrigue of Ann’s life leads Heather to travel to London to unravel the past, a past that Ann was unwilling to share with her family. Heather is able to track down the elusive Miriam Dassin, who not only was a celebrated artist, but before she worked in Hartnell’s shop, was a Holocaust survivor.

The characters in this book were crafted well, and Marisa Calin narrates The Gown well, with proper emotion in scenes when necessary and neutrality when needed. The personalities of the women comes through in both the writing and narrating. I don’t know the first thing about working in an atelier shop like Hartnell’s, but the details sounded believable. In the print version of the book, which I have on my Kindle as well, Robson admits she had a hard time finding out information about the real women who worked on Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown but finally tracked someone down to provide details. She also researched another embroidery house to get the details right. There’s even an excerpt of the interview with the woman, named Betty, that appears at the end of the book.

This is the 25th audiobook I’ve listened to as part of my 2021 Audiobook Challenge.

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