Book Review: A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

Title: A Single Thread
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Publisher: Viking
Publication date: September 17, 2019
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Library

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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.

A Single Thread is a quiet, low-key historical novel that I probably never would have picked up on my own, so I’m glad my book group picked it for our June read.

Set in 1932, Violet Speedwell’s story unfolds as she settles into her new independent life in Winchester. At age 38, Violet is a spinster, one of the many women left alone after losing a loved one during the Great War. Still grieving her lost brother and fiance, Violet felt crushed by the demands of living with her embittered mother, and moved to Winchester to create distance and find a new path for herself.

In Winchester, she works as a typist at an insurance office, and happens by chance to discover the society of “broderers” — the embroidery group who create beautiful cushions and kneelers for the cathedral. Although Violet has never embroidered, she’s fascinated by the group’s work, and longs to create something of beauty of her own, as a way to leave her own mark on the world.

Joining the broderers, she not only becomes absorbed by her new craft, but also finds friendship and a sense of belonging and purpose. She also meets Arthur, one of the cathedral’s bell-ringers, a kind older man who cares for his fragile wife, yet seems to share a mutual attraction with Violet.

Over the course of the novel, we see Violet emerge from her loneliness and grief and start to make a life for herself, finding new hope and meaning in the community she’s chosen.

Violet’s story is lovely in its own quiet way. An action-packed plot this is not — and if this weren’t a book group book, I’m not sure I would have made it past the early chapters, with all their details on cathedrals and embroidery. I’m glad I stuck with it. A Single Thread is a gently, lovely read, and while the ending was perhaps a little too rosy to be entirely believable, I found it overall to be a thoughtful, graceful experience.


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Shelf Control #236: The Gown by Jennifer Robson

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!


Title: The Gown
Author: Jennifer Robson
Published: 2018
Length: 371 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

“Millions will welcome this joyous event as a flash of color on the long road we have to travel.”—Sir Winston Churchill on the news of Princess Elizabeth’s forthcoming wedding

London, 1947: Besieged by the harshest winter in living memory, burdened by onerous shortages and rationing, the people of postwar Britain are enduring lives of quiet desperation despite their nation’s recent victory. Among them are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Together they forge an unlikely friendship, but their nascent hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime honor: taking part in the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown.

Toronto, 2016: More than half a century later, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of a set of embroidered flowers, a legacy from her late grandmother. How did her beloved Nan, a woman who never spoke of her old life in Britain, come to possess the priceless embroideries that so closely resemble the motifs on the stunning gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her wedding almost seventy years before? And what was her Nan’s connection to the celebrated textile artist and holocaust survivor Miriam Dassin?

With The Gown, Jennifer Robson takes us inside the workrooms where one of the most famous wedding gowns in history was created. Balancing behind-the-scenes details with a sweeping portrait of a society left reeling by the calamitous costs of victory, she introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines, their points of view alternating and intersecting throughout its pages, whose lives are woven together by the pain of survival, the bonds of friendship, and the redemptive power of love.

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy in January 2019.

Why I want to read it:

I read so many stellar reviews when this book first came out. I don’t always love dual timeline historical fiction, but the synopsis for this book really intrigued me. After watching seasons 1 and 2 of The Crown, I’m very interested in learning more about Queen Elizabeth’s royal wedding. This novel’s focus on the people behind the scenes of the wedding preparations makes this sound like a really special read.

Plus, this is a good reminder for me to get caught up on The Crown season 3 before season 4 is released in November!

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!