Sometimes I just want to set aside all of my serious mystery books or sad stories about unhappy people going through difficult times and read a book that will just make me smile. Maybe it’s not great literature, maybe it won’t be reviewed by the New York Times. But it will be like eating a dish of ice cream for dinner — not particularly nourishing, but oh-so-enjoyable.
That’s why I was drawn to The Gown, an historical novel by Jennifer Robson. The title is perfectly apt. The book is about making the wedding gown of then-Princess Elizabeth following the announcement of her engagement to the dishy Greek fellow who later became Prince Philip.
It’s 1947, and while the war is over, England is still experiencing very difficult times. There is rationing and some foods are unavailable altogether. People are trying to put their lives — and their cities — back together after the Americans have gone home.
So the announcement of a royal wedding brings light and joy into the downtrodden people of Great Britain. And the question of the day is what will her dress look like.
Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassan work for the queen’s dressmaker, real life Norman Hartell, as embroiderers. They, along with their coworkers, are the ones who use great care and immense talent to embroider the luscious gowns worn by wealthy women around the world. And Norman Hartell’s shop has been tapped to make THE gown.
Both Ann and Miriam, the best of friends and extremely talented embroiderers, have their own stories to tell.
Jump forward to contemporary times. Heather’s beloved grandmother Ann has just died in Toronto, Canada. She left Heather a mysterious box that includes embroidery samples and photos of her grandmother with a woman Heather doesn’t recognize. And why the embroidery samples when her grandmother didn’t embroider? Heather is determined to find out and travels from Toronto to London to do some digging.
The plot is predictable, in part because everyone already knows that the dress was a huge success. But the story is interesting and Robson’s writing kept me intrigued nonetheless. The details of the dress and what went into making it was fascinating. I’ve dabbled at embroidery in my life, but the artful mastery involved in the making of the dress was ice cream for dinner.