This is a charming book which takes the reader into the unexpectedly fascinating worlds of 1930s church (or rather cathedral) embroidery, and bell-ringing.
Violet, a lonely, bereaved, no-longer-young woman leaves home to start a new job in Winchester, away from her overbearing mother. She meets a diverse set of people there, and forges a small life for herself.
I loved this book. Being an embroiderer (secular, not ecclesiastical) myself, and having lived in Winchester for several years as a student and when I started my first "proper" job, I found Violet's situation struck many parallels with me.
Tracy Chevalier is a skilled writer, bringing seemingly dusty old facts out into the daylight and creating a rich and vibrant story with them. 1930s Winchester is beautifully evoked, as is Violet's new home and workplace. Her status as a "surplus" woman as a result of her fiance's death in World War 1 is handled sympathetically.
At times I was reminded of George Gissing's "The Odd Women" and "The Third Miss Symons" by FM Mayer, both written about "surplus" women - without husbands, without jobs, unable to make their "natural" way in the world simply by virtue of being unmarried.
Violet was rather too knowing at times but the writing was skilful and affectionate, allowing the reader to get a feel for the hopeless situation so many young women found themselves in as a result of the Great War.
The developing relationships with her colleagues, her embroidery ladies and the bellringers gave the story a direction that Violet's own life was lacking.
On reading the notes at the end, I was delighted to discover that some of the characters were based on real people. I would read it again, which is not always the case. And it made me want to pick up some of my neglected embroideries and get on with those.