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Book Review A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier
This is the sort of book you put down reluctantly, immediately looking forward to the next time you can read it again. Tracy Chevalier beautifully conjures up England in the 1930’s: the clothes, the streets, the houses, the smells, the attitudes and the general way of life, in particular for women, a subject I am so interested in myself.
Thirty-eight year old Violet “escapes” her home town to go all of twelve miles to Winchester to find independence and avoid the fate of being the spinster daughter stuck in her childhood home looking after her mother. Although this means she struggles financially, Violet is determined to make her new independent life a success. She joins an embroidery group who make kneelers and cushions for Winchester Cathedral and here she makes new friends.
.You may not particularly like Violet, the main protagonist, she seems has faults like we all do. True, she has an overbearing mother, but she is quite selfish herself. She comes over as a real person you can relate to, with real feelings and attitudes, however odd they may seem to us today.
The novel moves at a leisurely pace, a bit like Violet’s life but it is nonetheless an excellent book, so well researched and with such real-life touches that it draws you in.
I would have to agree with the reviewers who say there is too much detail in the description of the embroidery and bell-ringing. The book would be just as readable without these details. Another criticism is the treatment of extra-marital sex. We are told that Violet has had intimate relationships with men, many of them casual. However liberated Violet is, it felt out of character and I feel absolutely certain it would not have happened in the 1930’s when birth control was so unreliable, not to mention the danger of assault and the risk of venereal disease.
I also found the weird sub-plot with her stalker Jack Wells quite distracting. It seemed to have no purpose in the story and I couldn’t work out how the man could possibly be following her all the time and appearing out of nowhere.
My strongest criticism, however, has to be the ending. It was just too perfect, too chick-lit-y. Even when I was young in the 1970’s it was against all the rules of society to be an unmarried mother. Yet Violet is unashamed and everyone around her, even ultimately her mother, accepts the situation. However much she loved the father, it just doesn’t sit easily with the rest of the book, which reflects society at the time so perfectly.
Ad yet despite these criticisms, it is one of those books you miss when you have finished reading it, the sort of book you go on thinking about.
Bethany Askew is the author of eight novels:
The Time Before, The World Within, Out of Step, Counting the Days, Poppy’s Seed, Three Extraordinary Years,The Two Saras and I know you, Don’t I?
She has also written a short story, The Night of the Storm, and she writes poetry.
Two more women’s fiction books have been accepted for publication in 2020 and 2021 respectively and she is currently working on a new novel.
In her spare time she enjoys reading, music, theatre, walking, Pilates, dancing and voluntary work.
Bethany is married and lives in Somerset.