|The Missing Pieces of Nancy Moon / Sarah Steele
London: Headline, c2020.
This is a typical kind of British family saga, in that there are multiple generations involved, family secrets, and a young woman at the heart of it all. But it's also particularly fascinating since it includes two women who are fashion sewists, lots of talk of dresses, fabrics and vintage sewing -- the structure of the book depends on it.
As the book begins, Flo is at her grandmother's funeral. She was mostly raised by her gentle grandparents, so this is particularly wrenching for her. Also, her marriage is cracking up due to a miscarriage she had in the last year. All the sorrow is getting to be too much for her.
She decides to stay at her grandmother's house after the funeral for some alone time, and wandering about, looking for an old sewing machine she knows must be there somewhere (Flo is one of the sewists in the book) she stumbles across a box of vintage patterns in her grandmother's bedroom closet. Flo has never seen it before, and as she opens it, she discovers a seamstress named Nancy - who is unknown to her.
Nancy is from her grandmother's generation; the reader certainly knows a lot more about Nancy Moon than Flo does. It's a long trek for her to find out more, and that is what the book is all about. Flo's husband goes to American for a teaching gig, leaving her at loose ends; with the encouragement of her friend Jem, she decides to travel across Europe, following Nancy's path as much as she can from what she can decipher from the sewing patterns, which have postcards, ticket stubs and fabric tucked into the envelopes. She also decides she is going to duplicate the dresses that Nancy made so that she can wear them on her trip.
While we don't see or hear much about Flo's process of making the dresses (pretty quickly I'd say) we do follow her to Paris, and then to Venice and beyond, as she tries to replicate Nancy's movements and research where and what and why. Each section, based on a location, moves back and forth between Flo's era and Nancy's, and we get to engage with both of them and their varied experience in different decades. It's also interesting to read it this way, as the reader can follow Flo's investigations and see whether she's on the right track or not.
I enjoyed the descriptions of the dresses that open some of the chapters, and the discussion of style and fabrics and individuals who are highlighted because of the statements they make with their wardrobe choices. The author has included a gallery on her website that shows all the vintage covers of the patterns she discusses in the book, if you want a good look at the outfits that both Nancy and Flo are making.
There a few moments in this book in which coincidences strain credulity, but overall it was an engaging read with some good character development. And the settings are also quite lovely to read about! If you like books about family secrets and sewing, I'd definitely recommend you give this one a try.