Review - A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier
What makes this book a wonderfully enjoyable read is the authors' talent at taking subjects I have absolutely no interest in and weaving such a lovely story around them that I am absorbed and entranced throughout.
Her writing is outstanding and the book is a delight to read.
It tells the story of a very ordinary young woman, Violet, who has had the misfortune to become one of the thousands of "surplus" women following World War One. In an era when a woman’s worth was measured by the quality of husband she could marry and at a time when men are extremely thin on the ground and eligible ones almost non-existent, there are a plethora of such unattached ladies, the archetypal spinster.
Violet lives at home with her overbearing and crotchety Mother who neither appreciates nor values her daughter. Violet has known love, she is one of many women whose fiancé was killed in the war. Approaching early middle age her opportunities are few and her life is so dull and stifling she takes the quite bold decision to break free and manages to get a job in Winchester, a cathedral city which surely must hold more promise than slowly being suffocated as her Mothers drudge.
Moving into a respectable lodging-house for impoverished ladies, she becomes instead a slave to poverty. Trying to stretch a woman’s meagre wage to provide a roof, food and clothe herself proves almost impossible and any kind of social life also seems out of her reach.
At work she doesn't feel as though she fits in, working in a small office with 2 slightly younger women, who have already formed a clique they are reluctant to grant her access to. Her life is little better than before but at least she has broken free and she relishes this freedom even if she doesn't quite know what to do with it.
In a world filled with people broken by the recent war, she eventually finds a little niche for herself by "gatecrashing" an event at the nearby Cathedral which she so admires and discovers a group of ladies who embroider kneelers for the Cathedral. Eventually, she manages to join this little group and makes a new friend Gilda, who is also a “surplus woman” and as much a misfit as Violet (and most of the women who are in this group). With the Cathedral as central a character to the story as Violet herself, with the bells ringing as a backdrop she manages to stitch together a kind of life for herself.
What she doesn't expect is to fall in love, with someone very unsuitable with whom she can have no possible future. Little does she realise at first that her lively and outgoing new friend Gilda is also involved in an unconventional relationship she needs to conceal and the story unfolds as each tries to come to terms with choosing whether to love the wrong person or to forego love at all as they try individually to flout rigid convention and prejudice and find love where they can.
There are a few idiosyncrasies which rather than detracting from the tale, add to it. Violets encounters with whom she refers to as Sherry men and an unpleasant character who seems to follow her with ill intent.
There is a lot of detail about embroidery and later in the book, about bell ringing, which although central to the story I must confess I rushed through wanting to get back to Violet's story.
It’s a warm and gentle story, in which you think nothing much at all is happening but when you reach the end you realize you've lived someone else's mundane life instead of your own and you know what - jolly well enjoyed every moment of it.
Violet is an unlikely heroine, living a very unremarkable life. She doesn't change the world in any huge way but she fights bravely for her own right to a life of her own and represents the small moves made by women in the past to open doors for us women of today to choose to live as we want to and not how other people want us to.
I unreservedly recommend this book to women of any age, who are interested in what life was like for the women who paved the way for us and who enjoy heart-warming women’s fiction and appreciate quality writing.
It is 1932, and the losses of the First World War are still keenly felt.
Violet Speedwell, mourning for both her fiancé and her brother and regarded by society as a ‘surplus woman’ unlikely to marry, resolves to escape her suffocating mother and strike out alone.
A new life awaits her in Winchester. Yes, it is one of draughty boarding-houses and sidelong glances at her naked ring finger from younger colleagues; but it is also a life gleaming with independence and opportunity. Violet falls in with the broderers, a disparate group of women charged with embroidering kneelers for the Cathedral, and is soon entwined in their lives and their secrets. As the almost unthinkable threat of a second Great War appears on the horizon Violet collects a few secrets of her own that could just change everything…
Warm, vivid and beautifully orchestrated, A Single Thread reveals one of our finest modern writers at the peak of her powers.
Quotes from the Publisher -The Borough Press at Harper Collins
‘Told with a wealth of detail and narrative intensity’ Penelope Lively
‘I loved it. So compelling and warm and subtle, and very moving’ Bridget Collins
‘Deeply touching … careful, beautiful’ Louisa Young
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