A Single Thread

by Tracy Chevalier

Relationship Stories Historical fiction Books of the Month Books with reviews by our Reader Review Panel Family Drama

LoveReading Expert Review of A Single Thread

A quiet strength sits at the heart of this lovely, gentle, and beautifully readable tale set between the two World Wars.

A lovely, gentle exploration of a bygone time, yet there is a quiet strength to this compelling read. It is also one of those books that just may surprise you. Violet Speedwell, still suffering the loss of both her fiancé and brother in the First World War, moves to Winchester in search of a new life. Canvas embroidery, bellringing, the surplus of women after the war, expectations and the judgement of society, all sit alongside each other as Violet explores new thoughts and feelings. Tracy Chevalier writes with true eloquence, the descriptions bloom, the characters sing, and she allows you to ponder, to consider. Notes of caution and unease pierce the tale, with occasional moments of biting intensity. Violet is fascinating, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with her. In the acknowledgements I found out about the character who actually did exist, and I now want to explore Winchester Cathedral. Expressive and beautifully readable, A Single Thread is an engaging and rewarding tale.

Liz Robinson

A Single Thread Synopsis

It is 1932, and the losses of the First World War are still keenly felt. Violet Speedwell, mourning for both her fiance 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.

About This Edition

ISBN: 9780008153847
Publication date: 29th October 2020
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Publisher: The Borough Press an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 400 pages
Primary Genre Historical fiction
Other Genres:

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A Single Thread Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title.

A fascinating book and a real eye-opener!

This is the new book from the author of Girl With A Pearl Earring and it’s every bit as good as that book.

Violet is a ‘surplus woman’, one of the many after World War I destined not to find a husband.  What a terrible phrase!  I knew that this was a ‘thing’ with so many men not returning after the War but, looking at it with my modern eyes, I hadn’t realised quite how difficult things were for these women trying to carve out a role for themselves in a world which still only expected them to be wives and mothers, and which was suspicious of those who weren’t.

Violet moves to nearby Winchester and falls in with the women at the cathedral who are embroidering cushions and kneelers.  They meet on weekdays as none of the ‘proper’ women have jobs: Violet has to work to support herself, so she has to get permission to be able to attend these sessions.  Slowly she becomes part of this community, although throughout we encounter with her the difficulties of being a ‘surplus woman’.  It’s an important aspect of social history, told in such a way that the book is still a very interesting and enjoyable read.

Sarah Webb

This is an easy book to read and I found it very hard to stop reading it. Overall, an excellent story, well written and compelling.

Violet is one of the women left behind by the Great War. Having lost a brother and her fiancé in that conflict, she is a ‘surplus woman’ who has no chance or expectation of finding a husband. She lives with her mother, who is a serial complainer and makes Violet’s life miserable. But Violet wants to be independent and takes a job in Winchester to get away from her mother and to build her own life. The description’s of how Violet copes with her poverty, even though she is earning, are illuminating and vividly depict the life of a single woman at that time.
Violet becomes involved with the ‘broderers’ a group of women who embroider cushions and kneelers for the Cathedral. The characters of the women are beautifully portrayed – I particularly liked Mrs Biggins, who bosses and bullies most of the women in the group but is totally different when dealing with the expert, Miss Pesel, who set up the group. The small mindedness and kindness that Violet encounters give depth to the characters. The day to day issues of life and the rules of society at that time are made explicit by the events and interactions of the characters. This is an easy book to read and I found it very hard to stop reading it. Overall, an excellent story, well written and compelling.

Susan Wallace

A highly readable book which deserves to be a best-seller

I really enjoyed reading A Single Thread and thought it was even better than Girl with a Pearl Earring. It ticked all the boxes for me - well-written, a great story and characters I cared about. Set in the 1930s - with memories of one war and fears of another - it tells the story of Violet, one of the generation affected by the loss of Britain's men due to the First World War. It's also a commentary on inter-war society and how women like Violet and her friends are daring to push against societal norms and question their own attitudes. I love that the women in the story are taking control of their own destiny, pushing back the boundaries one step at a time. This book is a great read - I finished it within a day, not because it lacks depth but because I needed to know how it ended. I would absolutely recommend this book.

Pauline Braisher

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier is a lovely historical tale of a young women trying to be independant in a male dominated world. Set in 1930's amongst bell ringing and needlecraft this unusual setting really works!

Having been sent A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier to review by Lovereading, I was more than happy to do so. I have read other books by this author and enjoyed them. One of my main hobbies is needlecrafts so this book was right up my street! A story of the Broderers group who are making kneelers and cushions for Winchester Cathedral, with the addition of bell ringing, something I knew nothing about until now. The novel focuses on Violet who is an independent young woman at a time when this was frowned upon, being considered one of the 'surplus' women after world war one, in the 1930's.
The struggle between her duty as a daughter to care for her mother and wanting her freedom is obvious throughout and even now resonates with many who have ailing parents. I loved the attention to detail with the needlework, the risqué acts of Violet and the struggle of her two female friends who wanted to be together in a world where this was not considered appropriate. Violet quietly travels along her path of freedom, encountering male chauvinism, and being frowned upon by her peers.
A lovely historical read told from an unusual angle which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Glenda Worth

A flawless, affective depiction of a woman’s struggle for independence in interwar Britain.

A Single Thread

This hotly-anticipated new novel from acclaimed author Tracy Chevalier takes place between the wars in and around the cathedral city of Winchester. Frustrated, downtrodden Violet Speedwell has swapped the suffocating confines of her family home in Southampton for a life of independence and relative penury in Winchester. With nothing but her typing job to occupy her, she is finding life as a ‘surplus’ woman in the wake of war distinctly underwhelming. A frequent visitor to the cathedral, she is fascinated by a service for broderers, women embroidering cushions and kneeler for worshippers. Joining the group, she slowly makes friends and feels that at last, she can make her mark.

As ever with Chevalier, this is beautifully and economically written. You feel as a reader that not a single word is wasted. As the main character, Violet immediately feels very real and the limitations of a woman in her position feel stark and suffocating. Aptly for the title, the story slowly reels you in and life in the interwar period - grief and disbelief and a growing sense of foreboding is expertly and hauntingly depicted.

I found myself falling under the spell of this book - the constraints of society at the time weighed so heavily on anyone who did fit the norms. Violet’s love affair is beautifully and chastely played out until Violet makes a decision that will change the course of her life and all the relationships in it.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is another wonderful read from an author who precisely and seemingly effortlessly brings past worlds to life.

Clare Wilkins

it is slow paced but beautifully written and historical facts well researched. This is about a group of women who in different circumstances may have made different choices. Beautiful descriptions of Winchester Cathedral and bell ringing which has given me greater insight into this ecclesiastical world.

This took me back to the 70s, to two sisters who lived together in Edinburgh - as I was quite young I asked the question why did you never have husbands and the reply was " we were surplus so many men of our age never came back from the great war and there were not enough men to go round" reading this book brought back the thoughts I had of this time albeit they were much older.

The book is set in the 30s and so many men never came back from the front. This had a knock-on effect during the coming years with a lot of spinsters who had either loved and lost or never had the chance but each family was affected. Violet is in her late 30s losing fiancé and brother to the great war. She moves and joins a group of ladies embroidering cushions for a church, thus brings these women together.

It is slow-paced but beautifully written and historical facts well researched. This is about a group of women who in different circumstances may have made different choices. Beautiful descriptions of Winchester Cathedral and bell-ringing which has given me greater insight into this ecclesiastical world.

Well written, historically accurate and well recommended when it will be published.

Jane Brown

Life is at a crossroads; where does Violet find wholeness? Alongside the 'Broderers' (embroiderers); she finds that life can become a rich tapestry; beginning with 'A Single Thread!'

Set in 1932, we are introduced to Violet. Living at home, single, in an unsatisfactory job, she decides to make a number of changes to her life. She moves to Winchester, into a new office. As she wanders around the City, she finally enters the Cathedral. There she comes across the 'Broderers', the Group that 'embroider' the cushions and kneelers, used by the worshippers. Joining the Group, Violet begins to make changes, meeting new people and broadening her horizons.
Violet meets Arthur, with whom she develops a relationship. He introduces her to the 'practice' of bell-ringing, where as a woman, she is not welcomed by all. She goes on holiday and shares some of that experience with Arthur.
Through the life of Violet, Tracy Chevalier shows that life can become a 'rich' tapestry, even if it had been hanging by "A Single Thread".

Peter Baiden

A really beautiful and enlightening story. I loved this book!

A Single Thread is a stunning piece of historical fiction. Set in the aftermath of WWI, the story follows Violet a "surplus woman" as she tries to live her life in a rather restricted society. 

First of all, the idea of surplus women was a new one to me, it wasn't something I'd thought about but is such an obvious yet unplanned consequence of the loss of life during the war. The idea that women were judged and looked upon with suspicion because of an event that was outside their control is horrid. My heart broke frequently when Violet found herself in these situations - a tribute to Chevalier's excellent character development and descriptive skills. The sub-plot of some of the other broderers created a "dammed if you do, dammed if you don't" scenario for most of the women in this group that frustrated me while reading with modern eyes. It's a beautiful story that encourages the reader to empathise, sympathise with and support the characters throughout.

The setting of A Single Thread is gorgeous and Winchester is now on my list of places I need to visit, the way it is described is idyllic.

Also, the lack of foresight in this story is brilliant too. The hope expressed by Violet near the start that another war like that would never again but a lump in my throat and the underlying political developments were so expertly placed I wanted to applaud Tracy Chevalier while wishing I could warn the characters about what would be next.

A stunning book that I really didn't expect to fall in love with quite as much as I have.

Charlotte Walker

A beautiful tale to take you back to another time with a message that is as relevant today as then.

This book is touching and beautiful. Set in times of change during the thirties, Violet is a 'surplus woman' who age 38, moves to Winchester to start a new life and escape the home reminders of the First World War. In Winchester, she is introduced to a group of women who embroider for the cathedral and so begins Violet's new life. The descriptions are rich and evocative of times gone by, while the characters are touching and warmly created. Knowing that there really was a group of women, called the Winchester Broderers, who embroidered cushions and kneelers for the cathedral poignantly added to the validity of the story. This book is a timeless tale about being yourself and making the life you need to achieve happiness. 

Nikki Telling

This novel yells courage. It yells freedom. It yells independence. And standing along Violet, while she finds courage when you least expect to was a moment I will cherish.

When the team from LoveReading UK contacted me regarding A Single Thread, all I knew was that I loved Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier and would, therefore, read any other book she writes. A Single Thread follows the life of Violet, during the year 1932, a few years after the First World War. Violet has lost her brother and fiance in the war and is still learning to cope. She is labelled as a ”surplus woman” by the society, a woman that is unlikely to marry.

With the grief, the society label and the suffocation of her mother, Violet starts a journey that will change her life. She is determined to find where she belongs and who she truly is, in a time where being a woman and succeeding on your own was not praised by others.

Her journey starts with a long walk in a few towns, something she used to do with her late father and brother, and it continues with her learning canvas embroidery (today known as needlepoint), and the beautiful art of bell ringing (which pleasantly reminded me of The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, a book I read in high school and one I should re-read).

With Tracy’s writing, it is always so easy to lose yourself in the book and teleport to the past and re-live every scene as if you’re there. It is such a pleasurable experience.

I loved Violet, and I loved how she coped with all the challenges of that era. Post First World War times were extremely hard, with too many men dying and too many women not being able to ever marry. Violet’s courage and hope kept moving her forward!

This novel yells courage. It yells freedom. It yells independence. And standing along Violet, while she finds courage when you least expect to was a moment I will cherish. I recommend it to you, if you love novels in the wartime period or novels that talk about courage!

Ivana Atanasova

Thoroughly enjoyable, slow paced - but in a good way, and with some historical characters thrown in for good measure - fans of Tracy Chevalier, and any woman who has had to make her own way in the world, will appreciate this book.

As a historian, I love a good Historical novel, and none more so than the earlier 20th Century. Set in 1932, it is a snapshot into the life of Violet Speedwell, a spinster who is struggling to forge her own, independent, way in the world.
By a third of the way into the book, I struggled to just read one chapter, much to my partners frustration, as whilst the book is set in a time when the pace of life was definitely slower, and the misfortunes of some of the characters would be nothing sensational now, I really enjoyed the journey and looked forward to my next quiet period where I could dip into the book.
There were times when I wanted to shake some sense into her, I wont spoil it with why, but then times were different, and the decisions women made, were not necessarily the ones they wanted to, especially as a single woman.
Thoroughly enjoyable, slow paced - but in a good way, and with some historical characters thrown in for good measure - fans of Tracy Chevalier, and any woman who has had to make her own way in the world, will appreciate this book.


Tracy Chevalier Press Reviews

Praise for A Single Thread:

`I loved it. So compelling and warm and subtle, and very moving' Bridget Collins, author of The Binding

`I enjoyed A Single Thread enormously. Tracy Chevalier wonderfully evokes the social climate of the nineteen thirties - this is the intriguing story of a young woman facing the conventions and prejudices of the day, told with a wealth of detail and narrative intensity' Penelope Lively

`A deceptively quiet, deeply touching novel. Like a 20th-century Jane Austen, Chevalier draws you in with a careful, beautiful, thread, leading to new and different kinds of happiness for women to whom historical circumstance and parochial mores have not been kind' Louisa Young, author of You Left Early and My Dear I Wanted to Tell You

`In these days and in this author's hands, all love is sacred. A compelling portrait of women not lost but thriving against the odds' Kirkus Reviews

Other editions of this book

ISBN: 9780008153847
Publication date: 29/10/2020
Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9780008153816
Publication date: 05/09/2019
Format: Hardback

ISBN: 9781528873666
Publication date: 05/09/2019
Format: CD-Audio

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About Tracy Chevalier

Tracy Chevalier is the author of six previous novels, including the international bestseller Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Virgin Blue, Falling Angels, The Lady and the Unicorn, Burning Bright and Remarkable Creatures. Born in Washington, DC, she moved to London in 1984, where she lives with her husband and son. The film of Girl with a Pearl Earring, starring Colin Firth as Vermeer, was released in the UK in January. It was nominated for 10 BAFTAs and two Academy Awards. Photograph © Eammon McCabe

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