Mini Review: ‘A Single Thread’ by Tracy Chevalier

I enjoy historical fiction but I’m not a huge fan of wartime dramas. It’s also relevant to add I’m not generally a visitor to churches and cathedrals; I’m also not interested in embroidery. ‘A Single Thread’ has all these elements, set between wars as the threat of Hitler stirs, so it shouldn’t have been a top read for me, but it was. Whilst the thread of war is an underscore, the book explores the lives that must go on after great loss during WW1 and focuses on one of the ‘surplus’ women, a Violet Speedwell. It was the creation and voice of Violet that hooked me into this heart-warming and bittersweet story. I also discovered that bellringing and church embroidery is quite a detailed and interesting subject, and also how such activities can be healing and good for the soul. How such pastimes can build relationships and communities, particularly dealing with hardships and losses.

This is a steadily paced book with generally well-rounded characters, yes there are a few stereotypes, but I think the cast of these characters was a fitting observation of the time and its attitudes.

The main reason I loved this novel was following the story of Violet, a character I was rooting for throughout. She represents the plight of so many women left without husbands, fiancés, fathers and brothers after the tragic and futile loss of so many men during WW1. These women were often considered ‘surplus’ and they struggled to achieve anything but aged spinster status and caregivers to elderly relatives. Violet, frustrated with giving up her needs and independence moves away from her dominant mother and family home to Winchester. It’s this journey we follow as she builds her independence, meets a new group of people who will impact her life is so many ways. Violet learns to release the past and fight for a future that gives her independence, freedom, respect and love.

There are some fabulous support characters, one of these is a Louisa Pesel who was a real person. She was an embroidery expert who was asked by the Bishop of Winchester Cathedral in 1931 to design and sew cushions and kneelers for the choir stalls and Presbytery seats. A great character in this book and an amazing woman in real life; she worked at the Albert and Victoria Museum, travelled to Egypt and India as a single woman (rare at this time) and helped traumatised WW1 soldiers to sew beautiful things to help their rehabilitation. This adds lovely historical depth.

So, if you like historical fiction and a character motivated plot, then do try ‘A Single Thread’.

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