Review: A Single Thread – Tracy Chevalier

A Single Thread is a moving historical novel, set in post-First World War England. It is 1932, and although it has been several years now since the end of the war, its lasting effects linger over everyone. The war particularly hangs over the life of our central character Violet, who tragically lost both her brother and her fiancee in the war. Violet has just moved away from home in Southampton, determined to make her own way in a new town, Winchester. But things are not easy for Violet – she’s an unmarried woman struggling to feed herself and pay her rent, convince her boss she is capable, and ignore the disapproval radiating from her mother.

Violet finds some solace in joining the broderers, a group of women who have embarked on a mammoth project to embroider kneelers and cushions for Winchester Cathedral. Violet is originally drawn to this group for the opportunity to make a mark, by leaving a small piece of herself in this historical building that will endure for centuries to come. But through joining this group she connects with people from her new hometown, who begin to fill her life, and the plot of the novel.

Violet is such a likeable and strong central character – hers is a quiet but steady strength. She doesn’t find it easy to fight the expectations society has of women, but fight she does, day by day, through small acts of defiance. This is an era where society held women in a particularly tough bind. On the one hand, traditional conventions hold fast – women are expected to marry, then stay at home to take care of their families and households. But at the same time, the war has changed the very fabric of society – for many women, like Violet, their finances and sweethearts never returned from the battlefields. Not only that, but the women themselves have changed – they have been fighting their own battles on the home front, adapting to a whole host of different roles and lives.

As I was reading, it became clear to me that this was going to become a very special book to me. Having grown up in Winchester, the whole novel gave me a warm glow as I walked its 1932 streets. I always find it so exciting to read novels set in places I recognise – there’s something about those glimmers of recognition that make you smugly nod, “yes, I’ve been there!”. You also gain a whole layer of understanding and appreciation of the place, seeing it through another person’s eyes – particularly in a historical novel like this.

Winchester Cathedral is the heart of the city, and the novel – Violet constantly seeks it out as a place of comfort and a home, even though she is not particularly religious. That really struck a chord for me – I spent many years singing and playing in orchestras in beautiful places of worship including Winchester Cathedral. And although I am also not religious, I can definitely associate with the sense of community and safety that these buildings can evoke. Reading this novel brought back the fondest memories of those days; the feelings of wonderment and awe as music soared through the building and laughing around with my friends during our rehearsals.

I was also very drawn to the descriptions of Violet’s new craft and the therapeutic comfort it brings her. The novel is full of such intricate and technical details of the colours and stitches used to create the beautiful kneelers. I got so lost in the rhythm and careful attention of these embroidery sections, that it excited me to pick up on my own cross-stitch project I began around a year ago! Although this meant that it took me a little longer to read this book than usual, as I kept pausing to work on my cross-stitch – see below for a picture of my (unfinished) cross-stitch tiger! I loved the pace this brought and the connection I felt with Violet when I next picked up the book.

A Single Thread is extremely well crafted; all the different colours and threads are woven together to create this beautiful story. Violet, our very own ‘single thread’ is such a refreshing character from this era to read out, and it is a pure joy to watch her grow throughout the novel. Chevalier’s writing evokes such care for Violet, as well as a really striking sense of place and history – it’s a beautiful novel through and through.

A Single Thread is available now, published by The Borough Press. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for sending me an eARC of this book, in exchange for an honest review.

Sophie @Sophie_Jo_Books 🐾📚


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