A single thread

by Tracy Chevalier

Hardcover, 2019





New York : Viking, [2019]


"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"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member VanessaCW
Tracy Chevalier is one of my favourite authors, therefore I was very much looking forward to reading A Single Thread. Who knew that a story about broderers and bell ringers would be so captivating! It’s 1932 and Violet Speedwell moves to Winchester from Southampton, escaping an overbearing mother, to work in an insurance office. She becomes involved and enrols in a group, all with their own secrets, who embroider kneelers and cushions for the cathedral. She also meets married Arthur Knight, a bell ringer, and develops feelings for him.

I thought this was a delightful and thoughtfully written tale of friendship, family and unrequited love. Tracy Chevalier has woven a brilliant story touching on social history during the inter-war years. It’s well researched and beautifully combines historical fact with fiction, giving a great sense of time and place. The writing style is wonderful, the author has her own reflective and engaging approach - it easily transported me to the era.

This is a fabulous read, a story to savour, it’s gentle and moving but also contains a hint of something darker and menacing. If you enjoy character based stories, then you can do no better than read this one. I loved it and was sad to turn the last page.
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LibraryThing member triscuit
I loved this book. Well written social history of the surplus women after WWI when so many young men were killed. Violet has lost her brother and fiancee in the Battle of Paeschendale, a horrific bollux in the war. After he beloved father dies, gets away from her oppressive mother in Southampton by moving 14 miles away to Winchester.

The story resonated with me in so many of its plotlines. She works in a boring office but finds a social life in the Cathedral, as one of the broderer working on needlework kneelers and cushions. This work is calming and what we now call mindful. And the results are beautiful. Barbara Pym on those other excellent women in the church - the flower arrangers. I was in Winchester Cathedral this summer and noticed the flower ladies and the richly stitched cushions. The author describes several other features of the cathedral that I remember noticing, such as the Thetcher grave, visited by Alcoholics Anonymous Members.
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LibraryThing member nicx27
Do I want to read a new Tracy Chevalier book? It's a no-brainer, I would always say a big resounding yes! She's an incredibly versatile author when you think of her back catalogue and here she is again concentrating on another period in history, this time the more recent history of those difficult interwar years.

Our heroine is Violet Speedwell. Aged 38 when the book opens in 1932, she's one of the surplus women, those who remain spinsters because of the loss of so many men in World War 1. Violet, however, wants to be anything but surplus. She wants to be useful, she wants to be independent, she doesn't want to be confined to looking after her mother for the rest of her life.

Talking of her mother, Mrs Speedwell is a fabulous character, full of complaints and poor Violet can do nothing right. I had to smile! I loved Violet though. That hint of steel running through her core made her so courageous in the face of so much adversity. She moves alone to Winchester from Southampton, surviving on fish paste and cress sandwiches, some days forfeiting a hot meal to have the treat of a trip to the pictures, and yet she's doing it, she's branching out alone. It is at Winchester Cathedral that she embarks on a new hobby: she becomes a broderer, part of a group of women embroidering kneelers. It's also in Winchester that she meets someone who is destined to change her future but enough of that - read this book for yourself to find out!

Chevalier has hit just the right tone with this book. The horror of the first war is still hanging over so many people, the losses still just as strong as they were then, and yet Hitler's power in Germany is growing and a second war is looming on the horizon. It's such an interesting time to read about, especially from a woman's point of view, and one of Violet's age.

A Single Thread is a book I wanted to devour but I also wanted to savour every word. The descriptions are so rich and the author has a particular talent for making her characters not only three-dimensional but also completely fascinating. They come to life on the page and are a people-watcher's dream come true.

This is a wonderful read, a gentle one and yet so full of life. It's the perfect read for those of us who enjoy social history, those little details about how people lived their ordinary lives. I found it to be compelling reading and I loved how it ended, uplifting and hopeful for the future.
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LibraryThing member mzonderm
Not just any author could craft a compelling narrative from embroidery and bellringing, but Tracy Chevalier isn't just any author. The book follows Violet Speedwell, a "surplus woman" after so many men, including her fiancé, were killed in WWI. Violet's been living with her widowed mother, and has had just about enough of her constant complaints and criticisms, so she moves a scant 12 miles away to Winchester, home of the famous Winchester Cathedral (where Jane Austen and many others are buried). As happy as she is to be on her own, she struggles with the challenges of supporting herself (she does have a job, but it barely pays enough for food and a rented room) and finding some kind of social life, all in a world that still doesn't look very fondly on women on their own.

On a visit to Winchester Cathedral, Violet stumbles up a Blessing of the Embroidery service, and decides to join the cathedral broderers, who are engaged in a years-long project to embroider new kneelers and cushions for the cathedral. And thus begins Violet's journey of self-discovery. Most of Violet's journey involves learning how to be a friend (this is what leads her to meet the bellringers), how not to be guilted into moving back in to take care of her mother, and, generally speaking, how to be an independent person.

Like all of Chevalier's books, the reader is immersed in the world that she creates with her words. Even the details of embroidery stitches and the difference between ringing a set of 5 bells versus 9 bells is interesting as we learn alongside Violet and see the world opening up in front of her.
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LibraryThing member Faradaydon
Engrossing read
LibraryThing member shazjhb
Loved the book. Discussed complicated issue but the people were so nice.
LibraryThing member John_Warner
38-year old Violet Speedwell is trying to piece her life back together after both her fiance and brother are casualties in WW1. Employed as a typist for an insurance company, Violet seeks greater purpose from life. This yearning leads her to volunteer as a broderer at Winchester Cathedral embroidering kneeling cushions. Through this endeavor, the reader is introduced to a cast of characters, including, volunteer bell-ringers as well as the broderers.

Although Tracy Chevalier is one of my favorite writers, my reviews to her novels tend to be segregated between two ratings: outstanding and so-so. Unfortunately, this one was the latter. However, you might enjoy this book better than I if you have an interest in embroidery or bell ringing.
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LibraryThing member ltfl_stillwaterpl
Funny period book about the "spinsters" of England after WWI. good for nothing but poorly paid jobs and caring for aged family. Our heroine joins the the embroidery group working on cathedral pillows and crosses paths with the male-only bell ringer. detailed look at these quirky passions in a time long gone. a little sleepy but harmless. gentle read… (more)
LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
I loved the needlework and bell ringing stories, but the "love" story bored me. It's too bad because the rest of it was great. I loved reading at the end that many of these events were based on real people and their stories. It you like sappy love, you might like this novel more than I.
LibraryThing member tamidale
This latest book by Tracey Chevalier is set during the years between the Great War and World War II. The focus is on the role of women during these years and how difficult it was for those who were single and at an age where many men from their generation had perished in the Great War.

The main character is Violet Speedwell, a young woman who is grieving the loss of a fiancee and a brother. She has also lost her father, to whom she was very close. Violet has a contentious relationship with her mother. When she chooses to move out and live on her own, she upsets the family expectations and causes them to rethink what a woman’s place should be.

Two prominent subjects in the book are the bell ringers of the Cathedrals and the elaborate needlepoint (embroidery) that the women made to decorate the Cathedrals. Violet was fascinated by both of these subjects and decides to become one of the embroiders.

Her decision to become involved with the embroiders was pivotal in her life. She finds a purpose, finds her independence and even finds love and a way to live fully, despite what society dictates.

I found this one to be a slow burn, as I was almost halfway into the story before I became invested. The second half was very engaging and it was interesting to learn about a part of England and the Cathedrals that I was not aware of. Of course, after I finished the book, I had to go to the internet and find images of the needlepoint for the Cathedrals. Truly beautiful work!

Many thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Group Viking for allowing me to read an advance copy. I am happy to provide my honest review.
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LibraryThing member GirlWellRead
A special thank you to Edelweiss and Viking for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

A Single Thread takes place in 1932. Violet Speedwell is a "surplus woman" after the Great War took both her beloved brother and fiancé. Yet she is struggling with the notion that her life will be spent caring for her grieving, resentful mother.

After saving enough money, Violet strikes out on her own and moves to Winchester, which is home to one of England's most impressive cathedrals. She gets a job as a typist and befriends the broderers —women who embroider kneelers for the Cathedral, a tradition that brings comfort to its worshipers. Many in the group are rebelling against society's rules in order to maintain any kind of happiness.

There are reports that there is another war on the horizon with the rise of the Naza party in Europe. Violet must continue to fight for her independence and craft a life for herself in a time and place where women aren't expected to thrive.

This is a story of love, friendship, and discovering one's identity.

I've been enamoured with Chevalier's work since Girl With a Pearl Earring. Recently I had the pleasure of reviewing New Boy which was part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project. She didn't shy away from the huge undertaking/responsibility of retelling Shakespeare's Othello—her compact version delivers a sucker punch and I encourage you to pick it up.

A Single Thread is both meticulous in detail and in the telling of the story. It is character-driven, so if you are the type of reader that is more interested in narratives that are plot-driven, than the pacing of this book may be too slow for you.

Chevalier's research is impeccable and meticulous. Although the real-life embroidery expert, Louisa Pesel, makes an appearance, Tracy focuses her attention on the thread of fictitious Violet Speedwell. She is an engaging character, but I was frustrated with, and didn't fully understand, her relationship with Arthur, especially after she went to such great lengths to assert her independence.

Where this book excels is in the finer writing that carefully details the art of embroidery and the history of the time period. Although this book isn't quite as memorable as her other works, Chevalier delivers a rich and authentic work of literary fiction with an interesting premise.
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LibraryThing member cfk
I've turned into a curmudgeon. As much as I enjoy the way in which Chevalier creates character and atmosphere, I simply cannot be happy with the ending of A Single Thread. I don't think it realistic given the cultural mores of 1932 England on so many levels. Yes, Violet sets her path, but it is one which I do not think will lead to happy outcomes, no matter our desire for happy endings.… (more)
LibraryThing member smallwonder56
Didn't want this novel to end. Well written, wonderful characters and a realistic ending.
LibraryThing member EllenH
While I was interested in her historical depth & presentation of the women between the wars and the arts of bell ringing and embroidery in that time period I thought the story was too mundane for the most part. The relationships of Violet with Arthur & was interesting, but something was lacking in the book and I'm not sure what.… (more)
LibraryThing member herschelian
I hope others will understand me when I say this is a very 'English' novel. A woman in her 30s who lost a brother and her fiancee during WWl, she moves from living with her demanding and manipulative mother in Southhampton. Working for a pittance in Winchester, she finds a new life and new friends through joining the Broderers of Winchester Cathedral (google them), and this leads to profound life changes. I loved this quiet, slow-paced book.… (more)
LibraryThing member tangledthread
Violet Speedwell in 1932 at age 38 is one of the "surplus women" who lost a fiance' and a brother in WWI and has little hopes of finding romance, She has left the home of her domineering mother and is living in a women's boarding house in Winchester, doing clerical work in an insurance office with two much younger women.

One afternoon she stops into Winchester Cathedral and stumbles upon the knowledge that there are a group of women who are working to provide needlepoint kneelers and seat cushions in the sanctuary. Despite having no knowledge or previous experience with needlepoint embroidery, Violet sees this as a way for her to leave her mark on the world.

The narrative takes us through Violet's tutelage by Louisa Pesel (a real life character and embroidery designer). A plot thread the ties Violet to the bell ringers of Winchester Cathedral, and several other plot twists.

The author has done thorough research and has a deft understanding of the social and cultural dynamics of the era which she uses to create an engaging and interesting narrative.
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LibraryThing member JanaRose1
Violet Speedwell is a surplus woman, one of the many females unable to find a husband after WWI. After moving out of her overbearing mother's home, Violet is lonely and barely able to make ends meet. After a chance encounter at the cathedral, she takes up with the Broderer's Guild - a group of women embroidering kneelers and cushions for the Cathedral. There, she finds friendship, contentment, and finally settles into herself.

This was a very enjoyable read. The characters were extremely dynamic and realistic. I thought it was set in a fascinating time period. I am definitely going to watch out for more books from this author. Overall, highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member kaulsu
This is the first book of Chevalier's I have read, though I meant to read [Girl with a Pearl Earring] even before it was published. Chevalier's stepmother was a member of my Quaker meeting, and I met Tracy several times. Alas! Good intentions.... I did enjoy reading this novel, so I will definitely be reading more!
LibraryThing member siri51
Embroidery can be mesmerising as bell ringing must be too.
LibraryThing member JenniferElizabeth2
Chevalier does her usual remarkable job of writing a quietly engaging story.
LibraryThing member Iudita
This was such a comfort read. A lovely quiet story of community and a snapshot in time of what it meant to be a spinster in Britain, between the wars.
LibraryThing member LibraryCin
3.25 stars

It’s 1932. Violet is a single woman in her 30s and is living with her complaining oppressive mother. She jumps at the chance to move away, and becomes involved with a group of women who embroider cushions for a church. There, she makes friends and discovers a purpose in life (in addition to the newfound freedom from her mother). While on holidays, she also meets Arthur, who is, unfortunately, married.

It’s a slow moving book. I listened to the audio and my mind did wander some. I do suspect it might have rated it slightly higher had I read it. I almost rated it a bit lower, but I was focused enough throughout the end of it, that I wanted to up it just a little (that’s why the 1/4 star). Anyway, it’s also just after WWI, and this is shown to affect many of the characters. It is a time where some things are less accepted, and that is portrayed in the book, as well. It was interesting how the few times Hitler was mentioned, the context reminded me very much of Trump.
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LibraryThing member Pmaurer
Could have been an interesting historical novel, but it spent too much time initially sounding like a cozy. Stopped after the first tape.
LibraryThing member lukespapa
As much as I enjoyed Remarkable Creatures, I never could get in a good rhythm in reading this novel. Having been to Winchester Cathedral I assumed I would have a natural connection with the story, as the backdrop to Violet's story was her becoming one of the broderers who embroidered cushions and kneelers for the Cathedral. Though Chevalier gives strength to Violet in finding her way as a single women between the wars, ultimately the narrative was a bit too dry for me. Still, I am happy to own a signed copy and look forward to her next work.… (more)
LibraryThing member DrFuriosa
This was an engaging and informative read, as are all of Chevalier's historical fiction. This one takes place in England between the World Wars, and it focuses on the "surplus women" who never married or were widowed/left behind by the men killed in the war. Chevalier shows how women create and form community, as evidenced by any number of relationships and communities that form in the novel. I could have done without the romantic subplot, but that's just me. As always, Chevalier's strengths emerge when she writes about an obscure historical artifact or topic.… (more)



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