The Gown: Book summary and reviews of The Gown by Jennifer Robson

The Gown

A Novel of the Royal Wedding

by Jennifer Robson

The Gown by Jennifer Robson X
The Gown by Jennifer Robson
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Book Summary

An enthralling historical novel about one of the most famous wedding dresses of the twentieth century - Queen Elizabeth's wedding gown - and the fascinating women who made it.

"Millions will welcome this joyous event as a flash of color on the long road we have to travel."

- Sir Winston Churchill on the news of Princess Elizabeth's forthcoming wedding

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.

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Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Robson's meticulous attention to historical details - notably the intricacies of the embroidery work - is a wonderful complement to the memorable stories of Ann and Milly, making for a winning, heartwarming tale." - Publishers Weekly

"Robson vividly brings to life these three women's struggles. Historical details about fabric, embroidery, and the royal family are well incorporated into their stories, with light romance rounding out this charming work of historical fiction." - Library Journal

"A fascinating glimpse into the world of design, the healing power of art, and the importance of women's friendships." - Kirkus

"The Gown is marvelous and moving, a vivid portrait of female self-reliance in a world racked by the cost of war." - Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Alice Network

"[A]n unforgettable story of friendship, hardship and hope. Robson has managed to craft a story that is personal and universal, timely and timeless. The Gown soars!" - Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan's Tale

"A moving story about the power of female friendship and renewal in the face of adversity. Like the good luck sprig of heather hidden amid the embroidery on Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress, this story promises secrets and lives that bloom in unlikely ways." - Lauren Willig, author of The English Wife

"A story of friendship, family bonds, and courage, The Gown is the ideal read for fans of historical fiction and royal watchers alike!" - Brenda Janowitz, author of The Dinner Party

"Told through the eyes of three compelling women, The Gown is a heartwarming story of friendship, resilience, and the power of heirlooms to connect people through generations, sometimes in the most unexpected ways." - Kristina McMorris, New York Times bestselling author of The Edge of Lost and Sold on a Monday)

This information about The Gown was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Cathryn Conroy

A Novel So Good, So Compelling, So Delightful That You'll Be Reading Long Past Your Bedtime!
Warning! This book is so good, so compelling, so delightful that you won't be able to stop reading. It is the perfect ChickLit with a gripping, multilayered plot that will keep you turning the pages long past your bedtime.

Written by Jennifer Robson, this novel is a deeply affecting story about the power of friendship, the pain of betrayal, and the pleasure of redemption.

On the surface, the story of the embroiderers who helped make Princess Elizabeth's wedding gown for her November 20, 1947 nuptials to Philip Mountbatten seems rather, well, benign and possibly boring. It is the opposite! The tale is told through three fictional characters:
• Ann Hughes, a longtime employee of Norman Hartnell, the gown's designer. She is a loving and good young woman, but she's lonely.
• Miriam Dassin, a psychologically damaged young Jew who has emigrated to England from France and is guarding deep, tragic secrets.
• Heather Mackenzie, the granddaughter of Ann Hughes, who lives in Toronto.

Ann and Miriam keep the story going through 1947, while Heather's story takes place in 2016 as she tries to piece together the confusing mystery of her grandmother's deepest life secrets. The juxtaposition of the two time periods works seamlessly without being jarring as sometimes happens with this plot device.

World War II and the incessant bombing of London are over in early 1947, but there is severe rationing and shortages. It's a very cold winter, and everyone is shivering because there isn't enough coal or tea. It's a difficult time for everyone. In addition to their challenging jobs at Hartnell's, both Ann and Miriam each begin dating, but one of the men is a scoundrel who commits two heinous acts, setting in motion a series of events that forever changes one of their lives.

The novel is exquisitely written in such a way to transport readers into this slice of time with lots of historical details about everything from the gown's fabric to the rooms of Buckingham Palace. You're guaranteed to crave a cuppa!

An aside: Do Google photos of Princess Elizabeth's wedding gown to better appreciate the grandeur and intricacies of the embroidery.

MaryAnn Economos

Wonderful story
I loved this book.

Becky H

Rich details make this book come alive
The intimate details of every day life in 1947 England, still suffering from the austerity required by the devastation of WWII, are clearly rendered in the lives of two embroiderers working on Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown. One woman will become world famous, the other will be lost in obscurity when she emigrates to Canada.

Richly detailed scenes in ordinary home life (rationed, food, clothing, housing), education, and the workplace make this tale of historical fiction come to life. The reader comes to care about Ann and Miriam as they toil day after day on the peculiarities of embroidered flowers and motifs at Hartnell, a haute couture house of fashion.

Robson has done the research. She ably and seamlessly weaves real events and real people into her story. Book groups and history buffs will both find much to love and discuss in this tale.

Betty Taylor

Fit for a Princess
If you like books about strong female friendships and/or British royalty (especially an interest in the wedding gowns worn by Diana, Kate, and Meghan) this is the book for you.

It is 1947 and Princess Elizabeth is to marry Prince Philip. Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin are embroiderers for Norman Hartnell, designer for the royal family. Ann is alone after her brother is killed in the war and her sister-in-law moves to Canada. Ann becomes friends with Miriam, the mysterious new French girl at work and invites her to be her roommate. Miriam Dassin eventually reveals that she is Jewish and was imprisoned at Ravensbruck.

Toronto, 2016 – Heather Mackenzie is saddened over the death of her grandmother “Nan”. While going through her grandmother’s effects a box marked “To Heather” is found. Inside are three lovely embroidered pieces and a photo of some women gathered around a sewing frame. Heather realizes that neither she nor her mother know anything about Nan’s life before she came to Canada. They uncover a few more photos that reveal that Nan had apparently been friends with the well-known embroiderer Miriam Dassin. Thus begins Heather’s quest to learn about Nan and her secretive past.

I thoroughly loved this book. The characters emerged from the written page and came to life as I read. While being eager to get to each new chapter I also was compelled to set aside the book to look up elements from the story – close up photos of the actual wedding gown, other dresses designed by Norman Hartnell, the Chulily sculpture mentioned in the book. I could envision myself there in Hartnell’s workroom with the drawings and sketches pinned to the walls and fabric everywhere. The book has romance, it has villainy and glamour, but above all it has an amazing bond between two women. The premise of the book is well stated in a paraphrase from Heather: The story is about the gown and what it was like to create a wedding gown for a princess – and how it felt to receive no acknowledgement of their work.

This book filled me with a warmth and a sense of completion – a feeling of “this is how it should be”. There is so much more I would love to write about this book but I don’t want to give away too much of a story that you just must read for yourself.

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Author Information

Jennifer Robson

Jennifer Robson is the USA Today and #1 Toronto Globe & Mail bestselling author of Somewhere in France, After the War is Over and Moonlight Over Paris. She holds a doctorate from Saint Antony's College, University of Oxford. She lives in Toronto with her husband and young children.

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