Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Last week, I explored how the British observe November 11th.
Book: The Gown by Jennifer Robson
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: 2018
Source: e-book borrowed from the library
Summary: Anne Hughes needs a new roommate to share her home in suburban London in 1947. Anne is still a young woman but is already the sole survivor of her family. A new co-worker, Miriam Dassin, left France for a new life in England after the devastating loss of her family in World War II.
Anne and Miriam work for the famous dressmaker Norman Hartnell as embroiderers, producing handstitched decorations on beautiful gowns, but none so beautiful as their latest commission — the wedding dress for Princess Elizabeth. As soon as it’s announced that Hartnell will make the wedding press, newspaper reporters hassle Anne and Miriam and their coworkers for details, but everyone involved has been sworn to secrecy so that the dress can be a surprise on the wedding, just as every bride wants.
Thoughts: This Sunday, the 20th, is the 75th anniversary of the wedding between Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten — two people that I knew my whole life as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. I’m pretty sure that I’ve had The Gown on my To-Be-Read list since it was published four years ago. When I realized that 2022 would be the 75th anniversary of the wedding, I thought this would be the perfect time to finally read and review the book.
Of course, I didn’t know that 2022 would include the funeral of Queen Elizabeth. Seventy-five years ago, the wedding was broadcast live over wireless, shown on newsreels, and written about in newspapers with accompanying photographs. At that time, very few people owned televisions and it wouldn’t have mattered. The wedding wasn’t televised, although some highlights were broadcast later in the day. If you live in the UK, you can watch that on the BBC Archive. No one would have imagined that by the time Queen Elizabeth died, I would be able to follow all the activity via live pictures in London from my house in St. Louis.
I had a couple of false starts with The Gown. The first time was several years ago when the wait list at the library was long. When it was my turn, I wasn’t in the mood to be rushed through before it was the next person’s turn. So, I released my hold. The second time was earlier this year when I started this book just as another one became available. That time, I wasn’t in the mood for a multi-viewpoint novel, so I read the other book instead — A Sunlit Weapon by Jacqueline Winspear, the latest in the Masie Dobbs series that I enjoy.
Given that inauspicious experience with The Gown, I wasn’t entirely sure whether I would like the book or not. So, I was surprised that I devoured it in four days. Once I finally started reading, for real, I didn’t want to put it down.
Appeal: If you’re tired of World War II books, you might enjoy this novel that puts us a couple of years farther down the road. If, like me, you don’t understand that there could be such a thing as “too many WWII books,” there are enough memories in this book to keep you happy.
Challenges: Participants of the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge will appreciate the details of ordinary life in post-war Britain. I was particularly fascinated by the rationing and its impact on what people ate and wore.
Have you read this book? What did you think?