My Mrs. Brown
By William Norwich
Hardcover, 288 pages
2015, Simon & Schuster
Emelia Brown leads a quiet, reserved life in rural Rhode Island. She’s the pinnacle of good manners, though often overlooked by others and pegged as meek, drab and generally not worth noticing. But when Mrs. Brown assists with an estate inventory, she finds the Oscar de la Renta dress she didn’t know she’d always been dreaming of and it changes her life. She decides to do something bold – she will save up to purchase one just like it and travel to New York City (for the first time!) to purchase the dress from the boutique. But first, she must find the money to purchase the rather expensive dress and fund her trip, as well as overcome the skepticism from friends and peers regarding her trip, as only she knows the reason for this journey.
Honestly, I didn’t know much about this book when I first spotted it on the Simon & Schuster Instagram page. They were hosting a giveaway and I decided to step out of my comfort zone and throw my hat in the ring – to my great surprise, I won!
This is a character-driven novel, focusing on Mrs. Brown’s desire for this dress and what owning it will eventually mean to her. Her friends don’t understand why she wants to possess such an expensive dress in the first place, let alone travel to New York to purchase in rather than shop online. Mrs. Brown explains that this is the “most correct” dress she’s ever seen and it’s clear from the start that she knows exactly why she feels she needs the dress , and rather than explain to her friends (or readers), she lets her journey speak for itself.
This book was utterly average for me. The writing was decent, the plot moved along and I was curious why Mrs. Brown wanted to take this journey, but I couldn’t bring myself to connect with her. I wanted to know why she wanted the dress, but I didn’t care if she succeeded in owning it or not. Everyone in the novel is instantly charmed by Mrs. Brown’s quiet and polite personality and were practically tripping over themselves to help her. To me, she was dull and meek, content to let others walk all over her because she was raised to keep her chin up.
Once she set her mind on this mission she had an amazing run of luck and no real setbacks – in fact, any setback she encountered was then fixed by an even bigger run of luck. Those more fortunate than her suddenly became obsessed with random acts of kindness towards this one woman. But why? I wondered if she was the only quiet older woman they’d ever met.
While Mrs. Brown appeared to have a big impact on the lives of the characters she interacted with in the book, she made very little impact on me as a reader. Maybe it’s because I don’t often read character driven or contemporary novels, maybe it’s due to the difference in generations, or maybe it’s just a book I wasn’t all that into.
I did enjoy the takeaway, though, which for me was that you can’t let fear determine your life. Mrs. Brown conquered a lot of doubts and worries she had by taking her journey, including the fact that no one truly understood why she was doing it until it was over.
“Fear is criminal. It steals from life.”
I don’t regret reading it, however, and if you enjoyed the novel, I would love to hear your thoughts! I’ll also note (because you know by now that I love book design almost as much as I love the contents) that the endpaper in this book is adorable and I love the hand-drawn cover art (especially the cat on the back!)