Summary from Goodreads:
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.
This was a lovely, lovely novel. I almost didn’t want it to end!
Miriam Dassin and Ann Hughes became friends when Miriam emigrated from France after the war to work as an embroider for Norman Hartnell, where Ann also worked. Together the two created beautiful, intricate designs on clothing, most notably, the wedding gown for then Princess Elizabeth, who we know today as the Queen! Back in 1947 the two single women spent their days working and chatting, with an occasional evening out with friends or gentlemen callers. Not long after the gown is completed and the royal wedding has taken place, Ann leaves England to join her sister-in-law in Canada, cutting off all ties with Miriam and her love for embroidery, to create a new life, never to look back on her days in England.
In 2016, Heather Mackenzie is struggling with the death of her nan, Ann. When Heather’s mother finds a box of embroideries with only Heather’s name written on top, she makes it her mission to uncover more about her grandmother’s quiet and mysterious past. Traveling from Canada to England with only her nan’s photos and embroideries, not knowing much else about Ann’s time in Britain, Heather has an chance meeting with Miriam and begins to see a the side of her grandmother that she never shared with her family.
A novel of love, loss, feminine strength and determination, The Gown captured my heart instantly. I loved the friendship Miriam and Ann shared and the message of resilience of two strong women bound to take on whatever life throws at them. I highly recommend this novel, and I would go so far as to say it has been my most favorite book I’ve read so far this year!