This choice for my library book club could not be more timely. While opinions on Queen Elizabeth and the royal family are divided, one cannot dispute that they have fascinated the world for decades to the point where they could be their own historical fiction subgenre.
This title is less about the Royal Family and more about the working-class people who helped allow the Royal Family to be admired. Ann Hughes is a British woman who has lost most of those she loves due to the Blitz. Living with her sister-in-law, who is soon to leave for Canada, Ann works as a skilled embroiderer at the renowned Hartnell fashion house. She barely makes enough money to get by but is passionate about her work. Miriam Dassin is a French immigrant, displaced after the conclusion of WW2. Having lost her entire family in the war and being forced to work in a Nazi camp, Miriam is looking to start a new life in England and keep her head down. Christian Dior, the famous designer, writes her a letter of recommendation, which leads her to be hired at the Hartnell fashion house, where Ann quickly takes her under her wind. A true artist of embroidery, Ann and Miriam are assigned to help with their biggest client yet, making the wedding dress for Princess Elizabeth’s wedding to Prince Philip.
The Gown is a novel I would never have picked up on my own, as I am pretty tired of historical fiction from this era, but I did enjoy this book. Miriam and Ann are powerful characters and fascinating. I genuinely wish there was a second novel that merely takes place from Miriam’s POV after the conclusion of this book. There are a few things I wasn’t too keen on. I don’t know who started this trend of having sexual assault in every historical fiction novel, but I hope they step on legos for the rest of their days. It’s non-stop as of late, and I continually get patrons in my library who complain about this and ask for titles that do not contain sexual violence. Unfortunately for this book, while the rape scene is concise (about a paragraph or two), it comes out of nowhere, so someone who might have issues with it would be blindsided. It honestly took me out of the ending.
A few people I’ve seen take issue with the alternating chapters in this book, as it is told from the perspectives of Ann, Miriam, and Heather, Ann’s granddaughter. After her death, Heather discovers secrets about Ann and decides to find out her grandmother’s history. I didn’t have a problem with Heather’s chapters and found them to be a relief often, as the Ann/Miriam stories overlapped so much. Much of what we would read in Ann’s chapters would be repeated in Miriam’s from her perspective, and while it was interesting, it made the book feel a bit repetitive for the length. Heather’s chapters felt like a break from some bleakness, so I took no issue with those.
If you enjoy historical fiction, especially from this time period, you can’t go wrong with this one—a quick read in general and robust female characters to keep you interested til the very end.
Title: The Gown
Author: Jennifer Robson
Three Descriptors: Timely, Engaging, Richly Detailed
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