“Chevalier is a master at foregrounding the small, dramatic stories of overlooked people from the past.”



A beautiful, gentle book that covers a period of vast social change, A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier is an escape from the modern world. Beginning in 1932, it is the story of Violet Speedwell, one of a generation of so called “surplus” women, the women whose men were lost in the First World War.

At 38 she is largely resigned to spinsterhood, but can no longer tolerate her embittered mother who is still mourning the loss of one of her sons. When her job offers the opportunity to move to Winchester, she seizes it with both hands. Once there she struggles to make friends, until she joins the Broderers, a group of local women who are embroidering kneelers and cushions for the famous Cathedral.

Creating something gives her a real sense of fulfillment and the friends she makes among the group bring a new joy to her life, but when her independence seems to be threatened by family circumstances she must make some tough decisions. The slow, meandering pace of this book may not be to some reader’s tastes, but it I found it really enjoyable and strangely compelling, I was captivated by Violet and her determination to assert an independence hard fought for and not easily won.

It is a book driven by character rather than plot, and I applaud the author’s attention to detail. She managed to engage my interest in both embroidery and bell ringing through her descriptions, which were both comprehensive and skillful. Her descriptions of the Winchester setting are both vivid and beautiful, and overall I felt like I got a real sense of time and place from the book. I also found it interesting to read a book set in the interlude between two massive conflicts.


Reviewed by:

Annette Jordan

Added 16th October 2019