Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Gown by Jennifer Robson

In the 1950s, two embroiderers, one of whom survived a Nazi concentration camp, work together on Princess Elizabeth's wedding gown in London. In the near present, a young woman's grandmother dies in Toronto and leaves her some embroidered flowers with beads and seed pearls but no explanation as to their origin. Where did the embroidered flowers come from and why did her grandmother leave them specifically for her? Heather's grandmother never shared how or why she ended up in Toronto. Why did she keep her past a secret? As Heather searches for the answers to the origin of the embroideries, the story of their creation and her grandmother's past unfolds in the historical timeline.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed The Gown. I thought it would be interesting (I obviously wouldn't have accepted it for review if I hadn't been intrigued by the storyline) but the concept of the historical/contemporary blend has been totally overdone in recent years and I often feel like they are more exhausting than enjoyable. That was not the case at all while reading The Gown. The focus is heavily on the two embroiderers, Miriam and Ann, how they came to work on the wedding gown, what it was like to be an embroiderer living during a time of strict rationing in post-WWII England, and what became of them after the royal wedding. Heather's story in contemporary Canada and England (where she travels in search of answers) is kept to a minimum, which keeps the back-and-forth sensation from becoming as tiresome as it often can be in a novel set in alternating time periods.

Throughout the reading, I occasionally found myself thinking the modern storyline could have been eliminated completely. But, it's not obtrusive and ended up adding a much-needed conclusion to the embroiderers' story, plus a surprisingly uplifting ending to the book. Because of that, I actually thought the book was better than it would have been if it had only focused on the historical.

Highly recommended - Charming characters, clearly well-researched historical setting, and a solid ending make The Gown a lovely, entertaining, and enlightening read. I enjoyed learning about the creation of Princess Elizabeth's gown, loved the vividness of the historical setting (definitely a "you were there" sensation to this book), and really appreciated the fact that the modern storyline ended up adding to the depth of the story rather than giving me the sensation of being repeatedly flung back and forth in time. An excellent read.

My thanks to HarperCollins for the Advance Reader Copy of The Gown.

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