Review: The Gown

The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding

Jennifer Robson

One of my favorite places to go and lounge is the local book store. I can peruse the shelves for hours as I sip my latte and fill up my favorite canvas bag full of goodies that will hopefully transport me beyond the small town I live in into world of the past, present and fantasy. If I’m really fortunate that day, my trip is taken solo. Even with multiple children in tow they often disperse with my blessing to search through the shelves on their own in search of something to purchase. The only person for whom these trips are almost a nightmare is my very patient husband, my Silver Fox.

My poor Silver Fox is not a lover of books. He understands my need for the written word and that every turn of a page, every shiny cover, that even the very feel of the page between my fingers is precious to me. He understands that I need to walk up and down every isle. He will putter about the store, his own coffee in hand and wait for me to make my selections. This particular trip I picked up several books and put them back on the shelves as they didn’t seem quite right for the mood I was in. It was about 45 minutes in and 9 shelves deep when his patience broke. He handed me a copy of Jennifer Robson’s The Gown and told me to “Just get this. I need to get out of here.” Every man has his breaking point.

The scary part about all of this, he is 99% of the time spot on with what I enjoy reading. This time was no exception. My Silver Fox is well aware I am a lover of just about everything royal. I gave the back cover a quick scan and headed up to the register. The Gown is told in three voices over two time periods, 1947 London and 2017 Toronto. Robson does an incredible job showcasing the lives of two women behind the intricate embroidery on HRH Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress.

As I read through the story it made me wonder, how well do we really know the lives of our forbearers? Heather, the third women whose story we are invited into, has been left several intricately beautiful pieces of embroidery. With no other information to go on other than the cryptic words “for Heather” found on a box she is left to solve the mystery of their origin on her own. In reading the book we discover she had a good relationship with her grandmother, Ann. Yet, Heather and the rest of her family are at almost a total loss at the story behind the embroidered pieces.

My family, like Heather’s has pieces which have been passed down from one generation to the next. With those pieces comes the story of how they were made and why they have been passed down. One of my favorites is a pillow which rests comfortably on a chair in my bedroom. It was embroidered as an 18th birthday gift in 1856 and was clearly a labor of love.  Someday I will pass the pillows story onto my children or grandchildren just as my Mimi passed it onto me. To have a box of beautiful embroidery with no story attached, knowing that there was a story there just waiting to be discovered or even worse, one which was lost is sad. I am not ashamed to say I read the entire book in one sitting.

Once the last sentence was read and Ann’s story completely unfolded, I understood her need to keep her past private. Without completely spoiling the ending her choice to leave her past in the past during her own lifetime was understandable. I also understand her choice to leave Heather with a breadcrumb into her former life in London. I think deep down we all want to know the stories of those who have come before us. The Gown gives us a peek into not only the back story behind one of history’s most famous wedding gowns, but insight into how the people who made that gown happen lived.

While it wasn’t the story I was expecting to find, the story I got was in many ways even better.

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