The Blurb (from Goodreads):
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 one of my favourite writers. I find we have a lot of common interests –women’s stories, women’s art, women’s struggle. She’s one of the few authors whose books I will buy and read as a matter of course, regardless of where and when her books are set. And all of her books are very different – I never feel she is telling the same story over and over again which some authors unfortunately seem to do.
A Single Thread is set in Winchester in 1932. Violet Speedwell lost both her brother and her fiancé in the Great War, and has struggled to overcome her grief and the loss of all her dreams for her future. She cannot bear to stay at home, caring for her embittered mother, and so she has moved away from home and is working as a secretary for a mere pittance. She is independent, but poor, sad and lonely. One day she finds out about a group of women who meet regularly to embroider kneelers for the cathedral. The idea of making something beautiful that will bring comfort to those in need appeals to her. Hesitantly Violet approaches the broderers, and begins to learn the craft. She makes new friends, and finds new purpose in her life. But life as a single woman between the wars can be difficult, fraught with complications and dangers. Violet must discover hidden reserves of strength and courage if she is to build a new future for herself.
I loved this book so much. I am actually trying to teach myself embroidery at the moment, partly because the craft is at the heart of the novel I am writing myself right now, and partly because I love to make beautiful things with my hands. I also loved the book because of its themes – an ordinary woman struggling to make her way in the world, the importance of female friendships, the need for compassion and self-reliance, the beauty of women’s traditional arts. A book full of luminous grace.