As the weather warms, we gradually move into wedding season. Brides focus on venues, flowers, and of course the dress. How will it look? What will people think? Just as we have seen with Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton, no one is under more scrutiny that a royal bride.

For Queen Elizabeth’s wedding there was much speculation on the gown and the dress designer, Norman Hartnell. However, little has been shared about the women who created it. Jennifer Robson’s novel The Gown takes a different spin on Queen Elizabeth’s wedding dress, by sharing the fictional stories of the women who created the dress and the struggles of life in war torn England.

As someone who does not read historical fiction, this book was suggested to me by my grandmother and mother who had both read it--all within the 3-week checkout period! Much like the generations in my family that read the book, this story spans over 70 years. The narrative switches between three protagonists: Ann Hughes, a young embroiderer; Miriam Dassin, a French Holocaust survivor; and Ann’s granddaughter, Heather.

The story begins in 2016, with the death of Heather’s beloved grandmother, Nan. After the funeral, Heather inherits a mysterious box of exquisitely embroidered, pearl-encrusted flowers. After being laid off at work, Heather uses this time to embark on a quest to discover the story of the pearlencrusted flowers and her grandmother’s past.

In post-World War II London, where items are rationed and the lines between the classes are clearly defined, Heather’s grandmother, Ann Hughes works as an embroiderer for the high-end dressmaker, Norman Hartnell.

Ann befriends her co-worker, Miriam Dassin. Miriam, also an embroider at Normal Hartnell, immigrated from France. Miriam struggles daily with life after the Holocaust, the loss of her family, and the guilt of surviving. She turns to embroidery and journalist, Walter Kaczmarek, for support. Together Miriam and Ann help create the famous Hartnell gown. Everything seems to be falling into place when Ann meets the wealthy Jeremy Brackett-Milne but just like all employees at Norman Hartnell, Ann must be wary of spies who seek to publish the designer’s secrets before the wedding.

The Gown is a great depiction of life in England after WWII and how Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gave the nation something to celebrate. As for Ann and Miriam, their lives are woven together by pain, friendship, and love that time and distance cannot break. Jennifer Robson has also written the novel Goodnight from London. Both books are available for check out at the Yankton Community Library.