First things first: it’s not the royal wedding you’re thinking of (and no, it’s not that other one either) – Jennifer Robson’s novel takes place primarily during the engagement of Queen Elizabeth (who was a Princess at the time), and follows Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin (not real people, though I checked!), the primary embroiderers for Elizabeth’s wedding gown (a truly elaborate piece of art that involved thousands of work-hours to complete!)
Elizabeth’s betrothal was just as big a deal as the more recent royal weddings, for the record, and stood in as a sign of hope for a country still recovering from World War II. But the novel isn’t really about the wedding, either. It’s about those embroiderers I mentioned earlier, closely following a year in the lives of these two ordinary working-class women in post-war London, with some flashes forward to Ann’s granddaughter Heather in the present day as she investigates her grandmother’s past.
I’ll admit it took me a couple of chapters to get into Robson’s prose, though I can’t entirely express why – the chemistry between reader and author can sometimes be unpredictable, after all. In the end however, I found the novel an interesting and, for lack of a better word, comfy read. The main characters lead rich emotional lives, and I thoroughly enjoyed their friendship with each other and the romantic subplot (no spoilers, I promise!) The whole book is shot through with a wonderful sweetness, tinged with just enough of the bitterness inherent to the time (both Ann and Miriam suffered major losses in the war) to balance it out.
Robson is a historian as well as a novelist, and her deep knowledge of British history really makes the story come to life – I did find myself checking online to see which parts of the novel were history and which were fiction (and the results of my searches turned up many people asking the same questions about the novel!), because the characters are so fully fleshed out and well-imagined.
All of this is really to say: I am so excited to share that Robson will be visiting VPL to talk about The Gown! Head to the Bathurst Clark Resource Library at 2:00PM on Sunday, March 22nd to get the inside scoop on this truly gratifying work of historical fiction.