There is nothing I love better than realizing an author I already admire has written more than one book. Such was the case with Liz Trenow, author of The Last Telegram. The Forgotten Seamstress, her second novel, interweaves the stories of two women in England who are connected by a mysterious quilt.
The first character we meet is Maria, who is telling her life story to someone we cannot see. What the audience encounters is Maria’s memories via voice recordings and transcripts. Maria recounts her early years to a faceless young woman, explaining how she was raised in an orphanage before going to work at Buckingham Palace as an assistant seamstress. While there, she fell in love (and in bed) with the Prince Royal, whom she calls David. We know him as the historical figure of King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne in 1936.
Maria and David must keep their liasons a secret. In the meanwhile, Maria begins to sew a quilt using scraps of fabric found in her palace workroom. When she becomes pregnant with the prince’s baby, she dedicates the quilt to their love. Unfortunately, luck is not on Maria’s side. When her pregnancy is discovered, she is taken from London and deposited in an insane asylum, where her baby boy is delivered and taken forcibly from her. She is told the child is dead before being subjected to cruel treatments and medications meant to keep her under control. After many years, after losing and then regaining her ability to speak, she gains a reputation in the home for strange delusions. The other residents and workers start to call her “Queenie,” mocking her stories of once working at the Royal Palace. Despite all the terrible things that have happened to her, Maria is able to complete the quilt in memory of her lost loves.
Our second character is Caroline, who inherits the quilt nearly 100 years after Maria first began it. Caroline becomes obsessed with discovering who the quilt once belonged to, and begins to piece Maria’s story together. Her half of the narrative pull is interwoven with Maria’s, not unlike the patchwork quilt that binds them together across a century.
The story is both beautiful and heart wrenching. It is honest in its depiction of mental hospitals and insane asylums, while also managing to portray the importance of family ties and history. There is a rather major plot twist revealed at the end, although I guessed it half way through the book. However, it is so well written, and I cared so much about the characters, that my prediction did not keep me from finishing it. 5/5 stars.