‘The Gown’ tells fic­tional tale of women who made Queen El­iz­a­beth’s wed­ding gown

Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday) - - BOOKS - BY JO­CE­LYN MCCLURG

The Bri­tish royal fam­ily is all the rage these days, and Queen El­iz­a­beth II remains the mother of all ma­tri­archs at 92.

But, as his­tory lovers and fans of “The Crown” know, El­iz­a­beth was once a pretty princess bride.

“The Gown” (Wil­liam Morrow, $26.99) is sub­ti­tled “A Novel of the Royal Wed­ding,” a clever comeon likely to sell books, if a bit mis­lead­ing.

The main play­ers in Jennifer Rob­son’s in­tel­li­gent and in­trigu­ing tale are not the be­trothed El­iz­a­beth and Philip but, rather, three de­cid­edly non-royal char­ac­ters: Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin in 1947 Lon­don and Heather Macken­zie, Ann’s grand­daugh­ter, in 2016 Toronto.

The char­ac­ter in the present — Heather, a jour­nal­ist — must un­ravel the se­crets her beloved “Nan” took to the grave.

Rob­son shines when she whisks us back to 1947, when Ann and Miriam squeak out an in­come amid the pri­va­tions of post-war Bri­tain, work­ing in the ex­clu­sive fash­ion house of Nor­man Hart­nell, real-life cou­turier to the royal fam­ily. The two young em­broi­der­ers are cut from very dif­fer­ent bolts of cloth but be­come good friends when Miriam moves in as Ann’s house­mate.

Miriam, who is French, has come to Eng­land for a fresh start. A Holo­caust sur­vivor, she is a par­tic­u­larly well-spun char­ac­ter, who be­comes a fa­mous tex­tile artist.

In 1947, though, Ann and Miriam are mere pe­ons, al­beit tal­ented ones, on the team tasked with stitch­ing the in­tri­cate, del­i­cate em­broi­dery on El­iz­a­beth’s wed­ding gown. All the world would love a glance at Hart­nell’s top-se­cret de­sign.

En­ter the men in the story, some won­der­ful ones and one ter­ri­bly bad ap­ple. Rob­son has the chops of a very good mys­tery writer, and “The Gown” is at its best in its dark­est (and most mov­ing) mo­ments.

Jennifer Rob­son

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