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Posted by Lucy H on 27th Sep 2019

Review: A Single Thread

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

A Single Thread

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 quiet 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 Mayor, both written about "surplus" women - without husbands, without jobs, unable to make their "natural" way in the world simply by virtue of being unmarried.

I felt that 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.