An Immersive, Moving Story Of A Woman Coming Into Her Own At The Dawn Of The Second World War, From Internationally Bestselling Author Tracy Chevalier After The Great War Took Both Her Beloved Brother And Her Fianc , 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 WorshippersViolet 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 In A Single Thread, Tracy Chevalier paints a richly detailed picture of history and social change in England in the inter war years, set in the beautiful location of Winchester, with its magnificent cathedral In a well researched character driven story, it is 1932, 38 year old Violet Speedwell is deemed to be one of the surplus women, a consequence of the huge numbers of men lost in WW1, women who are both pitied and feared She is still feeling the loss of her fiance and her brother in the war, stifled by a difficult and suffocating mother She saves up, moving to Winchester, living an impoverished existence in a lodging house and working as a typist On a visit to the Cathedral, there is a ceremony for the broderers , her interest is captured by the embroidered kneelers She joins the group of women, that includes the real life Louise Pessel.As she immerses her life in embroidery, she finds so much than she could ever have expected She discovers an inner fulfillment, support, friendship and community, along with secets, whilst feeling drawn to a married bellringer, Arthur She becomes aware of who she is, and what she is good at Chevalier goes into incredible detail on the craft of embroidery and campanology, in a slow moving but involving narrative Violet is a strong, determined, flawed woman, resilient, as despite the challenges she and other women face, she is intent on shaping her life into what she wants it to be, refusing to be defined by others There are all the issues often associated with small communities, small minded individuals, gossip, judgementalism, and prejudice Amidst a horizon that hints of another world war, we are given a snapshot of this particular historical period, people and place, with beautiful descriptions of the location The novel touches on issues of the position of women, of sexuality, of being an unmarried mother, of the importance of friendships, of identity, family, of love and art This is not a book for those looking for a fast paced read, this is one to savour, and engage in the characters and the Winchester Cathedral community in the 1930s This is for those who love character driven historical fiction, particularly of this era Many thanks to HarperCollins for an ARC. Violet inadvertently walks into the Winchester Cathedral during a ceremony for the broderers and is taken with the embroidered kneelers I was not and the first part of the book was a trudge for me I was bored I kept reading, though, because I admired how Violet asserted her independence and moves away from her constantly complaining mother I felt for her alone and barely making enough for room and breakfast, frequently skipping a meal and still after years is grieving the loss of her fiance, her brother in the Great War She was considered one of Surplus Women Surplus women is a phrase coined during the Industrial Revolution referring to a perceived excess of unmarried women in Britain Wikipedia The middle part of the book was better and I liked the descriptions of the bell ringing and Violet s growing relationships While I get what Chevalier seems to be portraying here, the challenges of these women in society in general, the workplace and even in their families, the delivery of the story fell short for me, felt a bit contrived at times In spite of this, I think it s worthy of three stars because as I mentioned I admired Violet and some of the other women in the broderers group, and their coming together in friendship made for a good ending I read this with Diane and Esil This has been rated higher by a number of reviewers, so we may be outliers here I received an advanced copy of this book from Viking through Edelweiss. Despite having neither the temperament nor the talent to actively engage in the fiber arts, I have always had an interest in them My forays into the world of knitting and needlepoint have resulted in frustration and, I sheepishly admit, swearing like a sailor We have a world renowned art museum here which has many fine examples on display so I content myself with viewing textiles, tapestries and so on rather than actively taking part In this novel, embroidery needlepoint provides a spinster with a way to connect with other women and leave her mark upon the world in the form of decorative kneelers for the cathedral in Winchester Patterns of bell ringing at the cathedral also play a prominent role Although one incident rang false to me, this is a charming and delightful historical novel filled with women struggling to come into their own, forging a future, and casting off society s definitions of what it meant to be an independent, single female between the two world wars. In a world that increasingly appears to have gone mad this book is a soothing, calming balm This story is understated, gentle and about a bye gone age when societies rules and foibles are usually strictly obeyed Tracy Chevalier is an author who can create a picture, a character and an atmosphere with the appearance of effortlessness and that takes great skill and understanding of your craft The main character is Violet Speedwell and the era is the 1930 s, the setting is principally beautiful Winchester and much of the focus is on the cathedral Violet is a lovely character although the book has a number of great characters, some who are very likeable Tom, Arthur, Miss Pesel etc and some less likeable such as Violet s moaning Minnie of a mother Violet has known great sadness as her fianc and brother were killed in the Great War but she is trying to get her life back on track and the Winchester Broderers and Bell Ringing are key to that recovery I found the embroidery aspect fascinating though I have zero ability with a needle being totally cack handed and a lot of this aspect of the book is grounded in fact, Miss Pesel existed and was in charge of the designs and much of the work referred to can still be seen in the cathedral I especially loved that and this is something that Tracy Chevalier frequently does in her books I like the gentle humour and there are some lovely and absurd stories that are so ridiculously English eccentricity coming fairly easy There are moments of menace too and Violet shows just how self possessed she could be at times of threat Society of the time is well depicted too especially peoples attitudes to same sex relationships and unmarried mothers although some characters refuse to bow to the conventions of the day There is unrequited love but healing too as Violet is able to move on from her losses and in her own inimitable way finds solace The ending of the book is lovely and optimistic albeit with the spectre of Hitler hanging over the world Tracy Chevalier is a wonderful author, I ve read all of her books so it was a privilege to receive an early copy of this book Thanks to NetGalley and HarperFiction Publication Date 5th September DNF at 50% Feel awful because this is my monthly read with Esil and Angela This for me is one of those books that one neither hates nor likes. It is just stagnant If you like embroidery or hell ringers you might have better luck it is missing a spark, just too much yada yada. This was my first time reading a novel by Tracy Chevalier and I have a somewhat mixed reaction That s not to say the book is not enjoyable, because it really is But something was a little bit missing for me and by about the 2 3 mark I was really ready for the book to be over A Single Thread follows the character of Violet Speedwell in 1930s England Violet is in her late thirties and is what is known at the time as a surplus woman meaning that she is unmarried and most likely without any prospects of ever getting married Both Violet s brother and fianc were killed in World War I and she is still very much mourning the loss of these important men from her life The story starts with Violet finally asserting her independence and leaving her home to come live and work in Winchester One day she stumbles across a church service where a group of women volunteering as broaderers people who embroider are presenting their work, kneelers and cushions, at the cathedral And thereafter Violet becomes a broaderer herself and gets involved in the secrets and lives of some of these women She also gets to know some of the bell ringers and is particularly taken by a married man named Arthur One of the things I loved the most about this book is the research and historical accuracy of both embroidery and bell ringing This book is brim full of careful details about canvas embroidery needlepoint and as someone who dabbles in both knitting and sewing I found this fascinating It was so interesting learning about the stitches and patterns used to create kneelers and cushions for Winchester Cathedral in the 1930s And what truly made this book standout was the fact that one of the characters in the book was actually based on a real life person from that era, Louisa Pesel I only discovered this fact as I was reading the acknowledgements section at the end of the book and it made perfect sense to me when I read about this woman s embroidery legacy Winchester Cathedral because Lousia was one of the most memorable and authentic feeling characters in the book The book also sheds light on the skill of bell ringing in churches and cathedrals It s truly amazing to read about these men that were so committed to enriching their parish s daily activities Both these topics could so easily have been dull to read about but Chevalier somehow managed to bring them both alive and really helped me to appreciate the skill sets of the characters involved in these activities I also really enjoyed reading about Violet and found her to be a thoroughly engaging main character I liked that she had some spunk in her but also had many doubts It was the juxtaposition of the two that made her feel quite human It was the majority of the supporting characters that I feel let the book down I did really enjoy the LGBTQ storyline that involved one of Violet s friends but I found the characterisations of her mother and surviving brother to be somewhat lacking They felt rather cliched rather than truly authentic to me And I struggled to ever really feel invested in the subtly written relationship between Violet and Arthur I kept hoping Violet would just kick him to the curb and that storyline would wrap up half way through the book as I truly did not understand her connection to him Sadly this wasn t the case and Arthur hung around annoying me until the very end This book is definitely a book concerned with character than plot, and because I felt rather ambivalent about so many of the supporting characters I think that s why I feel somewhat mixed about this book So much of their stories just felt perfunctory in that I felt I was being told things as a reader rather than truly feeling them All in all this was a positive reading experience and I definitely would read something by Chevalier again My rating is 3.5 stars An e copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher, The Borough Press Harper Collins UK, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review For reviews and book related chat check out my blog 3.25 starsA Single Thread had the ingredients for the kind of novel I usually love, but unfortunately I found it quite flat in the delivery The story is set in the early 1930s, and focuses on Violet Violet is 37 years old, and thinks of herself as a surplus woman She wasn t able to marry because so many men were killed during WWI, and her options in life are seriously limited by her sex and marital status The story focuses on a year when Violet leaves her mother s home and goes to live in Westminster, where she works as a typist and joins a women s embroidery group She also befriends one of the cathedral s bell ringers My favourite part of the book was one of the sub characters, Louise Pessel, who is based on a real woman who designed embroidery The end also came together nicely And the writing is decent But otherwise this one felt a bit didactic at the expense of creating fully formed complex characters and a subtle plot I don t regret reading it, but I feel that it could have been much better This was a buddy read with Diane and Angela, and none of us was particularly enthusiastic, but as always I appreciate reading with them Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy. It s 1932, and because so many young men have lost their lives in the Great War, there is a whole generation of unmarried females, unfortunately referred to as surplus women Violet at age 38 is one of them She has lost both her fiance and brother in the war, and decides to get a job in the next town to escape living with her cantankerous mother She gets involved with a group of women who embroider cushions for the church, and learns far that just embroidery stitches through her association with these women Tracy Chevalier has evoked the period between the wars perfectly I felt as if I was in this English village, where kindness and small mindedness coexisted in the multi faceted characters Chevalier has done her research, and this novel is one of her best I just couldn t put it down. A story is like building a chapel A novel is a cathedral Rosario Ferre Tracy Chevalier centers A Single Thread around the majesty of the Cathedral in Winchester with its mighty presence and its abundant history Winchester Cathedral becomes the focal point of what has occured in the past in its community and what is transpiring in early May of 1932.Winchester still bears the scars of World War I in which loss sits heavily at the elbow of family upon family Young men left the township in droves only to return shattered in mind and body or not at all Violet Speedwell feels the hollowness of fatality in the realization that there will never be a future for her brother, George, or there will never be the promises fulfilled of love from her fiance, Laurence At thirty eight, Violet has swallowed down the bitterness of living with her stern widowed mother who needles Violet constantly Nothing that Violet does will heal the negativity and resentment that flows constantly within her mother Violet decides to leave Southhampton and make a break for Winchester She secures a job as an insurance typist in a small firm She barely has enough money to rent a small room and certainly not much for extras.But just as the Cathedral has always been the heartbeat of Winchester, it becomes the focus of Violet s new life She inquires about the embroidering being done over the years by a group of women embellishing the kneelers, cushions, and alms bags with their works of art Louisa Pesel a real life individual takes her under her wing and soon Violet is creating impressive work herself.The Cathedral becomes Violet s source of refuge as the world takes its place on the precipice of another war The Nazi Party is securing a foothold in Germany with Hitler taking advantage of economic uncertainties and unrest It is here that Violet will meet Arthur Knight, a bell ringer, within the Cathedral Her entire life will take a drastic turn from here on out.Tracy Chevalier takes us deeply into the world of broderers who stitched their way into creating small offerings of beauty in a world going so wrong Chevalier also presents the talents and finesse of the bell ringers that brought forth awe within the Cathedral s walls But bear with the indepth descriptions of embroidery and bell ringing She sometimes steps too far into painting mental murals of these two entities that the reader almost wishes to step away from such finite detail Be aware, but also be cognizant of the fact that there s so much within these walls.A Single Thread zeroes in on the quickening change within the expectations placed upon women The severe casualties brought upon by the past war and the impending one will come to embolden women who will leave behind their pacificity and take on new and unexpected roles Violet, herself, will walk a different path in regard to relationships, sexuality, employment, and a new emboldment in a changing world Life certainly begins with A Single Thread.I received a copy of A Single Thread through NetGalley for an honest review My thanks to Random House Books and to the highly talented Tracy Chevalier. Review coming soon.
- 336 pages
- A Single Thread
- Tracy Chevalier
- 19 August 2018 Tracy Chevalier