The Embroiderer

Written by Kathryn Gauci
Review by Jane Hill

A late-night call from Athens pulls a young woman from 1970s London to the bedside of a dying aunt, the last link to the mother she never knew. Alone in the homeland she has never visited, she discovers a family history rooted in commerce and couture, intrigue and war, aristocrats and rebels. Hers is a dynasty of talented beauty, cursed by a prophecy which changed everything. This tale takes us through the 19th & 20th centuries, from the Greek War of Independence to the Second World War. We follow four generations of legendary beauties through a tumultuous period, where politics threatens them at every turn.

Gauci knows her subjects well, and the picture of a couture house serving the aristocracy of the Ottoman Empire is skilfully drawn. As the story follows the mothers, the daughters and the evolution of the business, we meet characters who are not all lovable, but also compelling. It is impossible not to care about their fates as they face political twists and turns as well as the inevitable consequences of their own plans and intrigues. It is a period I know little about, so I found the background detail useful in understanding the story; although some sections read a little more like a history book rather than a novel, which made for hard going in places. Whilst some of the dialogue seemed a little strained, as characters explained things purely for the benefit of the reader, overall, this was an enjoyable book and an unexpected insight into what is now a lost world. I look forward to reading more from this author.