When Princess Elizabeth announced her official engagement to Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark in 1947, the news came as a welcome distraction to the harsh reality of post-World War II England. Jennifer Robson’s new novel, The Gown, takes the reader to this period when citizens had to maintain a stiff upper lip in the face of rationed tea, sugar and meat.
The main story is told through the eyes of two young women who are trying to find their way alone in London. Ann begins apprenticing as an embroiderer at the age of 14 at the fashion house of Norman Hartnell, who designs many of the royals’ gowns. Miriam, who was trained in Paris as an embroiderer, flees France and its painful memories after the war. Ann and Miriam first meet at Hartnell’s and become friends while working side by side on their meticulous craft. Their jobs become especially exciting and stressful when Princess Elizabeth picks Hartnell to design her wedding gown.
The Gown jumps to current day through the eyes of Ann’s granddaughter, Heather, who lives in Canada. When Ann dies, Heather receives a box with beautiful embroidery samples. Who made them? Where did they come from? Her grandmother was always silent about her past in England. Heather, who is a journalist, is determined to track down the mystery and heads to London.
Robson’s extensive research included interviews with an embroiderer who had worked on Elizabeth’s exquisite wedding dress. Her attention to detail and well-drawn characters make The Gown an enjoyable, satisfying experience for historical fiction lovers and for fans of the Netflix series, The Crown. Highly recommended.