Tracy Chevalier | Fiction 2019
The broderers did exist and did create embroidery for Winchester Cathedral. Louisa Pesel was renowned for her designs and she has a history of accomplishments before leading the project to embroider for the cathedral. Interestingly, embroidery was taught to men in WWI as a form of occupational therapy, to help them deal with their physical and mental trauma.
From the very first page I anticipated that this would be a novel that was finely written with much attention to detail. And I was not wrong. Chevalier (this is her 11th novel) is a master of character development and scenery description. She places you right in context, in her main character’s heart and mind. She is perhaps most famous for The Girl with a Pearl Earring.
The time is 1932. Violet Speedwell, 38, lost her brother and her fiancé in World War I. She is now one of the “surplus women” of her time. Too old to marry, not likely to have children, “spinsters” in the awfullest sense of that word.
But Violet strikes out on her own, leaving her hyper-critical mother behind. Moving to Winchester from Southampton, she takes a room in a boarding house, is a typist for an insurance company, and soon discovers the broderers, who are embroidering kneelers and cushions for Winchester Cathedral. She demonstrates her talent and becomes one of them. Of course, this action opens her to become self-sufficient (if quite poor), develop friendships, learn about the art of bell ringing, and perhaps even to fall in love.
This is a story of the times after WWI in England, of friendship, of the strict roles men and women held at this time, of maturing into one’s own person, and of the beauty of needlepoint. Though the topic might seem rather odd to some readers, its uniqueness is part of its charm, and I am giving it a full four hearts.
Recommend by numerous publications as one of the best books of 2019 including The Week, Time, Real Simple, Goodreads, and Overdrive.