Review: The Gown
The Gown is one of the best historical fiction novels I have read in a while. This novel is a great example of my preferred type; well researched and easy to read. Jennifer Robson’s last novel, Goodnight from London, was really enjoyable, so I had high expectations for this one going in. I was not disappointed.
This was a book about strong, flawed women doing their best to support each other through a difficult time. It is also a book about grief and an accurate description of the economic downturn Great Britain experienced in the wake of World War II. What more could a girl ask for?
I find that many historical novels tend to depict the end of a war as a happy, celebratory time of restoration and rebuilding. This is true, but only some of the time, in some of the places; it was not true for Britain after WWII. This novel reminds us all that war and peace can look very similar to normal working class people.
Robson weaves the story of three women together in a tapestry of excellent storytelling. Two of the women, Ann and Miriam, work as embroiders for Normal Hartnell during the late 1940s in London. This is the designer who designed many dresses for the Royal Family, including Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown. The third woman is Heather, a writer in modern-day Toronto who is reeling from the loss of her beloved Nan. She is trying to piece together the life her Nan led before coming to Canada.
Frequently with this style of narrative, I find myself less attached to one of the stories (often the modern day one) and I rush through those pages trying to get back to the character I care about. This was not the case with this book. I found Heather’s story just as compelling as Ann’s and Miriam’s. This could have been because Toronto is a city I know well so the locations were all familiar to me, or maybe it was because I too have found myself piecing together family stories through research. She was relatable where the other two women were admirable.
This book holds a lot of love and grief in its pages, so I highly recommend reading it wrapped in a blanket with a pot of tea.