The Gown (Robson)

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

As is the fashion, this novel has chronologically separate narrative streams told in alternating chapters. In this case, the author has varied the pattern slightly by having none of the streams in the first person, and by giving separate chapters to two main characters who are in the same time period and whose stories intersect (Ann and Miriam, 1947, post-war Britain, the embroidering of the wedding gown for Princess Elizabeth). The third character, Heather, is Toronto-based in 2016; in other words, she is the author's surrogate in discovering the story of the other two women, one of whom is Heather's grandmother.

 

The book is clearly written and well-edited. The three women are well-distinguished, and the traumatic events in the lives of the two wartime ones are handled with sensitivity. Neither Miriam's concentration camp experiences (she is the sole survivor in her French Jewish family) nor Ann's victimization near the end of the book - I will not specify further, since it's a major plot point - are so horrible as to outweigh the pleasure in historical detail that Robson brings to her work.

 

I'm not particularly an embroidery fan, but I did appreciate the descriptions of the embroidery work (it's also nice, for us and for the author, that pictures of the gown are widely available). The joy of making is really the thing that brings the very unlike Ann and Miriam together in their completely undramatic friendship.

 

There are men in this novel, but they are experienced only as they affect the principal women, and we form our own opinion of them based on that. While the relationships drive the plot, Miriam's very happy one a useful contrast to Ann's unhappy one, the romances were not a primary interest for me. I was much more engaged by the depiction of the difficulties of life in rationed, post-war Britain (even the future queen had to use her clothing coupons to buy her elaborate dress), and the philosophical way the women dealt with the contrast between their own lives and the extreme luxury and showiness of the royal garment they were making.

 

Decent historical fiction - I would read more from this Canadian author.