This latest book by Tracy Chevalier is set in rural England the period between the two world wars.
The people are coming to terms with the loss of life in the Great War and also of the sacrifices made by those at home. The main character Violet Speedwell has lost her financé and her brother in the war. She is one of what was known as the “Surplus women”. She moves away from her home and her controlling mother, to the nearby city of Winchester. She sets about forging a new life around her job in this city.
As with all Tracy Chevalier books, particular crafts or occupations are focussed on. In this book, Violet becomes involved with the life of Winchester Cathedral, notably the Broderers or Embroidery Women Volunteers and we learn all about a detailed but forgotten aspect of life at that time. Through this, she develops relationships and becomes involved in the craft of embroidering kneelers for the Cathedral and in the lives of her fellow volunteers. The skill and craft of Bellringing is also focussed on in this novel as Violet develops a connection with a man involved with this.
There is a lovely, gentle detailed rhythm to life in this novel as we are drawn into the everyday life and you can almost picture the English countryside and its people, as they are described and portrayed.
The life of unmarried women in their 30s and older and the difficulties this state brings them from society is brought out in this book. This is particularly apparent in the relationships Violet has with her family and their presumptions about how her life should be. Also, another World War appears on the horizon and Violet has to battle for her hard-won freedom and independence.
This is a beautiful book, detailed but not overwhelmingly so and I found it a lovely read, with a very heart-warming twist at the end.