The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding, by Jennifer Robson
This book is timeless yet also quite timely, especially with all the interest in the royal weddings and royal babies that have been popping out of England year after year. I loved The Gown for many reasons. I find the period setting, post WWII England, is very interesting, while also extremely grim. I wonder how I would survive in a period of such intense austerity. I mean, obviously I would SURVIVE and I know that human beings are also very adaptable, but I couldn't actually imagine having to make the queues and scrounge up coupons in order to purchase butter. It is very different from the life I live right now.
A part of the reason I am so interested in this period is from watching Netflix's The Crown, which is a cracking series. However, even though the book itself bills itself as something akin to The Crown, I would say this would actually be a better read for lovers of Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, as it's about the people behind the scenes, rather than the glamourous nobility wearing the clothes created. And I love it so much because I find their life so fascinating - a snapshot into daily life during a tumultuous time.
The basis of the novel is strong female friendships, and how women can lift each other up and do better when we support each other. Miriam is a french survivor of Ravensbruck concentration camp and has had her faith in humanity drastically shaken. When solid Ann befriends her, she is given the support she needs to open up to love again, and to immerse herself in her art. When Ann finds herself in an impossible situation, it is Miriam's friendship that helps her continue on with her life.
Many important issues are brought up throughout the book, including class issues, the holocaust, rape and unwanted pregnancies. So, a whole bushel of big questions dealt with a very fine touch. I was impressed with Robson's sensitivity and found myself caring for the characters a great deal, especially as they cared so much in each other.
There were some things I did not love about the book, which I felt took away from an overall strong book. The first is Ann deserved so much better! She was kind and sensitive and practical. But she was also open, and strong, and very brave. And she spent her life ... forgotten. It actually made me so so sad, Ann's story.
Also, the present-day part of the book was definitely not as strong as the historical part. I did not care for modern day Heather, and there was a romance kind of strong-armed into the story that I didn't believe at all. I think that overall the book would have been stronger if it had solely been told from the perspective of Miriam and Ann, in the 1940s.
And now to my last and most important thing, the reasons why I think the book really sings: the textiles!! I adore all things textiles - knitting, sewing, cross-stitch, embroidery. I'm not good at any of it, but the idea of creating something with your own hands, something lasting and beautiful, speaks to me on some essential level. This had made me want to visit textile museum exhibits, and to finally finish that knitted sock I'm working on.
Overall I felt this was a lovely book, interesting and heartwarming in some ways. I do recommend for fans of The Crown, and Downton Abbey, and anyone who enjoys creating art through textiles.