Staff Pick: The Gown by Jennifer Robson

TitleThe Gown
AuthorJennifer Robson
NarratorMarisa Calin

I don’t know about you, but between the popularity of the historical drama The Crown, and the real-life drama of the comings and goings of the Royal family of late, The Gown, written by Jennifer Robson and narrated by Marisa Calin is just what the doctor ordered! You must forgive the pun when I say that this piece—an audiobook of historical fiction—talks to the making of the wedding dress that was to be worn by Princess Elizabeth in her marriage to Philip Mountbatten. And what an intriguing subject of choice by Jennifer Robson! The weighty anticipation for Meghan Markle’s wedding dress pales in comparison to the expectancy for the dress worn by Princess Elizabeth, if for no other reason than the socio-economic backdrop of her engagement in what was then a war-exhausted England.

Even setting aside the recent fascination with the Royals, The Gown is an audiobook that is well worthy of every minute of its 11 hours and 38 minutes’ narration. Jennifer Robson carefully builds its storyline around three female protagonists: Ann, a 25-year-old self-admitted “plain girl”; Miriam, a French Holocaust survivor; and over 6 decades later, Ann’s granddaughter, Heather, who is determined to discover the significance of a box of exquisitely embroidered flowers bequeathed to her by Ann. This, in and of itself—the growth of the characters and their relationships—makes for an intriguing tale.

Add to that narrator Marisa Calin‘s voice and narrative flair are perfect for the subject matter at hand. She transports the listener effortlessly from wherever they may choose to listen and thrusts us into the throes of the lives of these three strong female characters, and the interesting and unexpected twists and turns their lives take over the span of multiple decades.

Whether you devoutly devour every bit of the daily barrage of news about the Royals, passionately take sides on Harry and Meghan’s UK exit (like my mum!), stand passively by with mere (mild) curiosity (more like I do), or lie somewhere in-between, The Gown—interwoven with just the right amount of drama and historical fact—is skillfully wrapped around the tale of three captivating characters which makes for a riveting story that you will not want to miss!

Publisher Summary:

London, 1947: Besieged by the harshest winter in living memory, burdened by onerous shortages and rationing, the people of postwar Britain are enduring lives of quiet desperation despite their nation’s recent victory. Among them are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Together they forge an unlikely friendship, but their nascent hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime honor: taking part in the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown.

Toronto, 2016: More than half a century later, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of a set of embroidered flowers, a legacy from her late grandmother. How did her beloved Nan, a woman who never spoke of her old life in Britain, come to possess the priceless embroideries that so closely resemble the motifs on the stunning gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her wedding almost seventy years before? And what was her Nan’s connection to the celebrated textile artist and holocaust survivor Miriam Dassin?

With The Gown, Jennifer Robson takes us inside the workrooms where one of the most famous wedding gowns in history was created. Balancing behind-the-scenes details with a sweeping portrait of a society left reeling by the calamitous costs of victory, she introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines, their points of view alternating and intersecting throughout its pages, whose lives are woven together by the pain of survival, the bonds of friendship, and the redemptive power of love.

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