All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

on October 8, 2019

A Single Thread 
Tracy Chavalier
The Borough Press
2019, 352p
Copy courtesy Harper Collins AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

1932. After the Great War took both her beloved brother and her fiancé, Violet Speedwell has become a “surplus woman,” one of a generation doomed to a life of spinsterhood after the war killed so many young men. Yet Violet cannot reconcile herself to a life spent caring for her grieving, embittered mother. After countless meals of boiled eggs and dry toast, she saves enough to move out of her mother’s place and into the town of Winchester, home to one of England’s grandest cathedrals. There, Violet is drawn into a society of broderers–women who embroider kneelers for the Cathedral, carrying on a centuries-long tradition of bringing comfort to worshippers.

Violet finds support and community in the group, fulfillment in the work they create, and even a growing friendship with the vivacious Gilda. But when forces threaten her new independence and another war appears on the horizon, Violet must fight to put down roots in a place where women aren’t expected to grow. Told in Chevalier’s glorious prose, A Single Thread is a timeless story of friendship, love, and a woman crafting her own life.

I honestly wasn’t really sure what to expect going into this book. For a start, I don’t know anything about church or religion and therefore, I had to google what it was that Violet ended up being drawn to. I had never heard of kneelers and if anyone had asked me, I’d have probably thought that kneeling on something uncomfortable was probably supposed to be part of the experience. But I did end up googling and seeing quite a few examples and they are very intricate and pretty in most circumstances. And for Violet, I can understand perhaps, what drew her to the group.

Violet is well ensconced in spinsterhood in 1932. She is one of the leftover women, having lost her fiancé in the war. There were lots of women like Violet – known as ‘surplus women’ after the death tolls in WWI meant that there was simply put, not enough men to go around and many women remained unmarried. Some of these women, like Violet, carried on working. Violet applies for a transfer to take her 12 miles from her family home, in order to gain a bit of independence and quite simply, get away from her mother. Her mother hasn’t recovered from losing a son in the war and then her husband and now her conversation is a never ending stream of complaints that Violet cannot deal with any longer. But life as an independent woman isn’t easy – Violet struggles to make ends meet, often foregoing meals in order to have coal. Her clothes are outdated and worn and she cannot afford to replace things like lipsticks. She listens to the other two women in her office, some decade or more her junior talking of their boyfriends and their desires to be married soon and she feels a million miles away from them. Violet is 38, probably considered well on the shelf by those around her.

And so she finds the society of women who embroider things for the church and decides to join, tolerating the guardian at the door and those who might turn her away with brusqueness. Violet finds kindness and even friendship there from some of them women and she also finds a purpose, a way to ‘make her mark’ so to speak in creating something that shall endure. Her thoughts are often of what is no longer here – her brother, her father, her fiancé. Although she has a living brother and the two do get on well, he’s busy with his family and the fact that he has a family seems to enshrine his belief that should anything happen to their mother, it will fall upon Violet to care for her. Quite simply because she is a woman and unmarried and he is a man with a family. Never mind that she is the mother of both of them – as a man his responsibility isn’t the same as Violet’s. It’s all quite indicative of the era and part of what Violet is trying to escape I think, in moving away from her family home.

I understood and admired Violet’s need for space, for independence, to do something other than sit and home and take care of her mother. Even when life becomes much harder for her, she sticks at it. I liked the camaraderie that she found with some of the group and the way in which the book explored whispers of same-sex relationships during this time. It’s new to many people and even Violet must consider her feelings on the matter and decide should she want to continue her association with someone when it would probably tarnish her reputation with the same brush because of course she also, is an unmarried spinster in her late 30s. What I did find curious in this book however, was the man that Violet comes to have feelings for. I didn’t really understand how it happened, or why. What was Violet searching for when she decided that this man was the one that interested her? It was an impossible situation for them both and I really just found that I had no interest in it or enjoyment of it. It was perhaps the only part of the book that I didn’t really enjoy and I feel as though some of Violet’s choices might not have played out so well in real life during this time as they did in the book. The end of the book felt surprisingly modern.

I found a lot of this interesting but a lot of it was very quiet in parts too. It was an easy read and Violet does grow and change as she gains her independence. But there were bits I found curious and a bit inconsistent with the times and with the characters kind of fading in and out. Violet’s brother was a bit of an example about a character that dallied back and forth about what was agreed upon, given the circumstances. There were some parts I wasn’t sure why they were there as they seemed to serve no real purpose to the story. All in all this was a decent read but seemed to me like at times the focus was a bit wandering.


Book #156 of 2019

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