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#Bookreview A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier (@Tracy_Chevalier) (@BoroughPress) An accurate look at the lot of a woman in England between the wars, recommended to lovers of historical fiction, needlework, and cathedrals

Hi all:

I bring you a novel by an author who’s fast becoming one of my favourites. I hope you enjoy the review as much as I enjoyed the book.

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier
A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

If she was to make a mark on the world, she would have to do so in another way…

‘Told with a wealth of detail and narrative intensity’ Penelope Lively

‘I loved it. So compelling and warm and subtle, and very moving’ Bridget Collins

‘Deeply touching … careful, beautiful’ Louisa Young

It is 1932, and the losses of the First World War are still keenly felt.

Violet Speedwell, mourning for both her fiancé and her brother and regarded by society as a ‘surplus woman’ unlikely to marry, resolves to escape her suffocating mother and strike out alone.

A new life awaits her in Winchester. Yes, it is one of draughty boarding-houses and sidelong glances at her naked ring finger from younger colleagues; but it is also a life gleaming with independence and opportunity. Violet falls in with the broderers, a disparate group of women charged with embroidering kneelers for the Cathedral, and is soon entwined in their lives and their secrets. As the almost unthinkable threat of a second Great War appears on the horizon Violet collects a few secrets of her own that could just change everything…

Warm, vivid and beautifully orchestrated, A Single Thread reveals one of our finest modern writers at the peak of her powers.

https://www.amazon.es/Single-Thread-globally-bestselling-Earring-ebook/dp/B07NKWK95D/

https://www.amazon.com/Single-Thread-globally-bestselling-Earring-ebook/dp/B07NKWK95D/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Single-Thread-globally-bestselling-Earring-ebook/dp/B07NKWK95D/

Author Tracy Chevalier
Author Tracy Chevalier

About the author:

Tracy is the author of nine novels, including the international bestseller GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, which has sold over 5 million copies and been made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth. American by birth, British by geography, she lives in London with her husband and son. Her latest novel, AT THE EDGE OF THE ORCHARD, is set among the apple trees in Ohio and the redwoods and sequoias of California. Her next book NEW BOY is a re-telling of Othello, set in a Washington DC playground in the 1970s. It’s part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project in which various writers take a Shakespeare play and write what Jeanette Winterson described as a “cover version.” Tracy is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and has honorary doctorates from her alma maters Oberlin College and the University of East Anglia. Her website www.tchevalier.com will tell you more about her and her books.

https://www.amazon.com/Tracy-Chevalier/e/B000APQH6G/

My review:

I thank NetGally and The Borough Press (Harper Collins) for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely decided to review.

I only came to Chevalier’s books quite late (I hadn’t read any of her novels until I caught up with At the Edge of the Orchard, which I loved and whose review you can read here), but I’m fast becoming a fan of her way of bringing history to life and immersing us in worlds that many of us might know little or nothing of and managing to grab our attention and to teach us invaluable facts at the same time. This novel is no different. Although we revisit a historical period that is much closer than those she has visited in other books (the story takes place in the UK the early part of the XX century, in between wars), once we get into the story, we soon discover that things have changed more than we might realise. The social mores of the era seem light years away from ours (although perhaps not everywhere and not for everybody), and, although told in the third person through the eyes of the narrator, Violet Speedwell, we learn what being a single woman (‘a surplus woman’ as the novel explains) was like at the time.

Violet, the protagonist, is not the most glamorous and exciting character I’ve come across. She is not special in any way, and that is what makes her story particularly representative of the period. As she often observes, there were many women who had lost male relatives, husbands or fiancées (she lost her older brother and her fiancée) during the Great War, and this generation of women are struggling to find a place for themselves. Some might go on to marry, but others… what kind of life awaits them? Although the style of writing is completely different, the sharp social observations put me in mind of Jane Austen and her novels. (Of course, Jane Austen is buried at Winchester Cathedral, so it all seems to fit). Violet leads a life where she is always conscious of other people’s opinion, of what her mother will think, of what will happen to her in the future (will she end up having to go to live with her younger brother and become the spinster aunt to his children?), of whose company she keeps… And once she leaves her mother’s house and goes to work and live in Winchester, she even has to be careful of how much she eats, as her salary won’t allow for any luxuries or even a hot meal per day. She is far from a conformist and has her moments of rebellion (she has her sherry men), but she is not open-minded or up in arms, at least not when we first meet her. By chance (and due to her love for Winchester Cathedral, inherited from her father, the most significant person in her life) she discovers the broderers, a group of women dedicated to enhancing the cathedral with their embroidery (when you read the author’s note you discover that the group existed and its main character, Louisa Pestel, was a historical figure whose archives are now at the University of Leeds), and although she knows little of embroidery, the thought of making a contribution to such a building and leaving her mark drives her to join in. Although not all is goodwill and camaraderie in the group, it changes Violet’s life, and she and us, readers, meet many other characters that give the story its depth and a strong sense of place and historical truth.

I love the way the author introduces details of embroidery (needlepoint), bell ringing, the history of Winchester Cathedral, and even the landscape of the city and the surrounding area, into the novel seamlessly, without making us feel as if we were reading a touristic guide or a history book. (She brings together all the threads like a skilled embroiderer herself). She is also proficient at descriptions that enlighten without becoming repetitive or overbearing. I get the feeling that she would be an incredible teacher and she’s hold her students enraptured by her words, the same as she does her readers.

The characters are recognisable as types, but they manage to surprise us as well, and the little details she mentions about them and about their behaviours and reactions make them true and genuine, even those who don’t feature prominently in the story. As the story is told from Violet’s point of view we sometimes get biased opinions about the characters, but we also get to see how she changes her perspective when she gains a new understanding of what life might be like for others, and we share in her progressive enlightenment and her new (and more generous) view of things. By the end of the novel, Violet is a totally new person and her life has changed beyond all recognition. Is it a happy ending? Well, I guess it depends on your definition of happiness, but she’s sure come into her own, and I enjoyed it. Do read it and see what you think!

I thought I’d share a few quotes from the book, to give you an idea of what you might find. (I recommend you check a sample of the novel to see if it’s a good fit, and remind you that I accessed an ARC copy, so there might be some changes in the final published version).

Women always studied other women, and did so far more critically than men ever did.

An invisible web ran amongst the women, binding them fast to their common cause, whatever that might be.

It was expected of women like her —unwed and unlikely to— to look after their parents.

She was from an era when daughters were dutiful and deferential to their mothers, at least until they married and deferred to their husbands —not that Mrs Speedwell had ever deferred much to hers.

This is neither a page turner, nor a book for those who love non-stop action. There are adventures and surprises, but those are not earth-shattering but rather in keeping with the main character and her milieu. This is a story centred on the everyday life of a woman in the early 1930s in England, at a time when the country was starting to recover from a war, and people were already worried about the events taking place in Germany. It is a novel about how far women have come (at least in the West) or not, about how some things don’t change easily, about the small acts of rebellion and about finding your own place, about being creative in your own way (both the broderers and the bell ringers made me think of Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Garden), and about ensuring your voice is heard. It is a novel of manners for the XXI Century, and much, much more. I was enchanted and entranced by it, and I recommend it to people interested in Women’s History, UK recent history, the social history of the interwar period, embroidery, bell-ringing, Winchester Cathedral, and good writing.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for her fabulous book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

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#Bookreview AT THE EDGE OF THE ORCHARD by Tracy Chevalier (@Tracy_Chevalier) I enjoyed the story, the characters, the historical detail, the beautiful language and yes, the trees too

Hi all:

My list of books to read from NetGalley is very long (I’m sure any day they’ll stop approving me because I can’t keep up) but I’m very greedy when it comes to books (not so much for other things, thankfully) and often I just see on offer a book by a writer that I’ve always felt curious about but never quite got round to reading and… Yes, I can’t resist. This is one of those and it was well-worth it.

At The Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier. Cover 1
At The Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

·         Hardcover
$18.36

 

·         Paperback
$11.27
1 New from $11.27

 

·         Audible
$24.94

 

·         Audio CD
$33.28

“With impeccable research and flawless prose, Chevalier perfectly conjures the grandeur of the pristine Wild West . . . and the everyday adventurers—male and female—who were bold enough or foolish enough to be drawn to the unknown. She crafts for us an excellent experience.”
USA Today

From internationally bestselling author Tracy Chevalier, a riveting drama of a pioneer family on the American frontier

1838: James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck – in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from a local tree man known as John Appleseed so they can cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their claim on the property. But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.

1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, he has made his way alone across the country. In the redwood and giant sequoia groves he finds some solace, collecting seeds for a naturalist who sells plants from the new world to the gardeners of England. But you can run only so far, even in America, and when Robert’s past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last.

Chevalier tells a fierce, beautifully crafted story in At the Edge of the Orchard, her most graceful and richly imagined work yet.

About the author:

Author Tracy Chevalier
Author Tracy Chevalier

Tracy Chevalier is the author of nine novels, including the international bestseller GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, which has sold over 5 million copies and been made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth. American by birth, British by geography, she lives in London with her husband and son. Her latest novel, AT THE EDGE OF THE ORCHARD, is set among the apple trees in Ohio and the redwoods and sequoias of California. Her next book NEW BOY is a re-telling of Othello, set in a Washington DC playground in the 1970s. It’s part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project in which various writers take a Shakespeare play and write what Jeanette Winterson described as a “cover version.” Tracy is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and has honorary doctorates from her alma maters Oberlin College and the University of East Anglia. Her website www.tchevalier.com will tell you more about her and her books.

https://www.amazon.com/Tracy-Chevalier/e/B000APQH6G/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction, The Borough Press for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily choose to review.

Tracy Chevalier was one of the authors that I had wanted to read for a long while but somehow never got around to it. When I saw this title on offer I decided it was now or never. For me, it was well-worth the wait, but more about that later.

The book follows the story of a family who moves from Connecticut to Ohio in the XIX century and later of their youngest son, Robert and his adventures. It is divided into several parts, and it is symmetrical and beautifully composed. We first get to know the parents, James and Sarah (Sadie), whose first-person narrations alternate, and whose points of view and personalities couldn’t be more different. Then there are the letters that Robert, their youngest son, writes back home, which give us a brief insight into his adventures, without narrating every little detail. Then there is the narration of Robert’s adventures, this time in the third person, and how he goes full circle and after trying many things ends up working with trees, his father’s life mission. There follow the letters from his youngest sister, Martha, who tries to find him, and also tell a story that would have been much more difficult to read if it had been told in detail. (I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but let’s say her way of talking about her experiences make them more poignant for me. Robert was right when he told her she was stronger than she thought she was.) Then we go back to James and Sadie’s story, picking it up at the time where it had been disrupted, and by the end of the novel, we’re back to Robert’s story. Although the story goes backwards and forwards in time, I did not find it difficult as the times and the narrative voices are well and clearly delineated.

Life in the swamp is vividly described as harsh and demanding. It kills animals, people, and crops. It also can destroy the spirits of some individuals. The only bright spot are the apples (be the sweetness and the joy of growing them, for James, or the cider and Applejack for Sadie). Here I found myself fascinated by the description of the trees, the process of looking after them, what they came to represent, the fights over the different types of apple trees, and later about the love of people for the sequoias and the business involved in exporting trees. It has happened to me more than once that when I read about a subject I’d never thought much about; I become entranced by it, not because of the subject itself, but of the passion and beauty with which it was written about. I remember, as an example of this, American Pastoral by Philip Roth. I’d never given a second thought to glove making before reading that book, but I the way the craft was described, so lovingly. In this case, to Chevalier’s advantage, I like apples and trees, although I’ve never studied them in depth, but I loved the factual knowledge, the beauty of the language, and the use of true historical figures, as the author explains in her notes. As a note of warning, having read some of the reviews, not everybody found that part interesting. I guess I’m more of a James (or a Robert) than a Sadie in that respect.

The characters are not immediately relatable to or even likeable, but they do ring true. Both parents seem to be trapped in relationships and roles not of their liking but unable to do anything else, at a time when survival was the main object and most people had to put up with their lot in life, like it or not. Robert is a quiet man, who prefers nature to the company of others, but he is also loyal and more attached to people than he likes to acknowledge, even to himself. The book is built around a secret he keeps, although for me that was incidental and not the hook that kept me reading. He ends up becoming fonder of people and, like the trees of the story, gets to move around and see the world. Martha, his sister, is a great character (she would have made an interesting protagonist too, but perhaps her story would have been too bleak) but does not get a lot of space in the book. Some of the secondary characters, based on historical ones, like John Chapman and William Lobb, deserve whole volumes dedicated to their endeavours, and some fictional characters, like the housekeeper and Molly, are larger than life.

I can’t compare it to any other of Chevalier’s books, but I enjoyed the story, the characters, the historical detail, the beautiful language and yes, the trees too. I recommend it to lovers of historical fiction who are happy to delve into the texture and the feel of an era or an occupation. And now I have to try and catch up with the rest of her books.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publishers and the author for this wonderful book, thanks to all of you for reading, and please, like, share, comment and CLICK!

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