The Blurb (from Goodreads):
When Esther Thorel, the wife of a Huguenot silk-weaver, rescues Sara Kemp from a brothel she thinks she is doing God’s will. Sara is not convinced being a maid is better than being a whore, but the chance to escape her grasping ‘madam’ is too good to refuse.
Inside the Thorels’ tall house in Spitalfields, where the strange cadence of the looms fills the attic, the two women forge an uneasy relationship. The physical intimacies of washing and dressing belie the reality: Sara despises her mistress’s blindness to the hypocrisy of her household, while Esther is too wrapped up in her own secrets to see Sara as anything more than another charitable cause.
It is silk that has Esther so distracted. For years she has painted her own designs, dreaming that one day her husband will weave them into reality. When he laughs at her ambition, she strikes up a relationship with one of the journeyman weavers in her attic who teaches her to weave and unwittingly sets in motion events that will change the fate of the whole Thorel household.
I was mainly drawn to this book because of the beauty of its cover, and because I knew it was set amongst silk-weavers in London in the 18th century, one of my favourite historical periods.
It tells the story of two young women.
Sara Kemp is tricked into prostitution shortly after her arrival in London. One day she is seen by Esther Thorel, the English wife of a French Huguenot silk weaver, who decides to rescue her. The lives of the two women are then spun together with threads as delicate and yet as strong as silk.
The chapters are short, vivid, and powerful, alternating between the voices of the two women. Esther’s marriage is cold. All she wants is to create beautiful designs to be woven in silk, but her husband will not allow a woman such a significant creative role. She must try and learn in secret, and is helped by a young journeyman weaver. Sara, meanwhile, falls in love.
What follows is betrayal, heartbreak, murder, and tragedy. I found it absolutely riveting.