‘It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon…’
This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she and Red fell in love that summer’s day in 1959. The whole family on the porch, half-listening as their mother tells the same tale they have heard so many times before.
From that porch we spool back through the generations, witnessing the events, secrets and unguarded moments that have come to define the family. From Red’s father and mother, newly arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to Abby and Red’s grandchildren carrying the family legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century – four generations of Whitshanks, their lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn Baltimore house that has always been their home…
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler left me with mixed feelings. I am aware that it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2015 and that Anne Tyler is such as fantastic, well-loved writer. However I also know that, whilst reading this novel, the story didn’t quite captivate me as I wanted it to, or in the way that books I enjoy always do.
Anne Tyler’s characterisation, as always, is brilliant. They are all convincing, three-dimensional characters that you can really imagine meeting in real life. There are quite amusing situations where you think to yourself, “Ah, my grandma/ grandad/ mother/ father” etc would have done that, and there are figures of speech that the characters utter which ring true and familiar throughout. I love that aspect of the novel, and enjoyed learning more about the characters and their family life.
The novel hops backwards and forwards throughout time; it starts in 2012 and then moves further backwards in time, occasionally returning to the present again, before rewinding right back to Abby and Red’s parents. I got a little confused at times, when reading this particular timeframe, as I kept imagining Abby and Red, not their parents, and for me it was a little hard to get my head around after reading so much about the generation after them. I did enjoy reading about how Abby and Red met, though, and the present day story where everyone tries to come to terms with some upsetting news.
I think for me the problem with this novel is that, although I was really interested in most of the characters and did enjoy reading about them, there wasn’t a point when I felt like I hugely cared what would happen to them. I found some of the narrative a little dull, and I wished we found out more about what exactly was going on with Denny’s character. As I got towards the end of the novel I kept thinking something was going to be revealed about him, to explain his sullenness and general air of mystery, but this didn’t really happen. I suppose this reflects real life to a greater extent, as you don’t always find out everything about everyone, but as a reader I felt a little disappointed.
I would say, if you are an Anne Tyler fan, to give this a go as it is an enjoyable read overall, but don’t necessarily expect it to be her best. From discussing it with others it seems this is a common opinion- though certainly not absolute, as I’ve seen many 4 and 5 star reviews too!
** Many thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this novel in return for an honest review **
Are you an Anne Tyler fan? What did you think of ‘A Spool Of Blue Thread’?