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.
Tracy Chevalier is known for her insightful and sensitive portrayals of strong women, and she carries that through in A Single Thread. Violet Speedwell wears her “surplus” designation like a scarlet letter turned into a fashionable brooch. She misses sex with her fiancé who died in the war, so she takes herself off to hotel bars to pick up “sherry men.” She’s sick of her bitchy mother, so she takes a job in another town and changes her whole life. All this during a time when women were either married, about to be married, looking to get married, or were spinsters. Violet refuses to accept that her life is any less important than the married women around her as we watch her live her life on her own terms and help others to do the same.
Chevalier is excellent at relationships, and she creates a fascinating web of those here, with Violet at the center. “Women’s work” often involves needlework, and Chevalier opens up a fascinating piece of history revolving around the broderers – women who embroidered the cushions for cathedrals and churches. Chevalier drops Violet smack in the middle of a group of women who have all experienced loss and disappointment, but have learned to hide it very well. Violet changes that and draws the women out, while at the same time finding a new path for herself.
This will be popular with book clubs, and I predict a few embroidery groups to form around it as well. Recommended.
Publication Date: September 17, 2019
Published By: Penguin Group Viking
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy