A Spool of Blue Thread is Anne Tyler’s twentieth novel and the first that I have read. Making the shortlist of both the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and Man Booker Prize for 2015 it is an enthralling story of family and domestic life.
‘Well, of course they did hear from him again. The Whitshank’s weren’t a melodramatic family’
The novel tells the story of Abby and Red Whitshank and their family centred around their Baltimore home. From here we spool back through four generations of the Whitshank family – from Red’s parents as they first settle in Baltimore in the 1920’s through to their four children and their grandchildren. Tyler’s portrayal of family life is wonderful. The everyday interactions between parent and child capture domestic life perfectly. I really enjoyed learning more about each of the children and their own families, and was particularly intrigued by Abby’s relationship with eldest son Denny. At the start of the novel Denny seems to be estranged from his family, but he returns to the family home to support his mother in her later years.
‘That was another of their quirks, they had a talent for pretending that everything was fine’
The ups and downs of family life are played out as the family history is gradually revealed. This certainly keeps up the readers’ interest, the characters are so real and I was absorbed by the story and keen to find out more about the characters and their relationships with one and other. It soon transpires that beneath the surface there are family secrets, sibling rivalries. There is also the matter of growing old and all that it brings. This includes the difficulty in accepting a loved one’s help that you may not want to take. It touches on the indignity of losing independence and physical well being. This is all handled sensitively by Tyler.
‘It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow and green morning in July of 1959’
I loved the use of the house within the story. The Whitshank’s Baltimore home was almost a character in itself and plays host to key events that have defined the Whitshank family over the generations. It is portrayed as being a sprawling, worn house that is much loved. Through the generations we shift back to Abby’s youth as she encounters her mother and father in law in this house when first meeting Red in 1959.There is also the trivial matters arising over the homes decor which lead to family disagreements, another example of the simplistic domesticity of the story. These are the things in life that seem mundane yet can have a greater impact on a family, a marriage and a home.
Whilst the plot is fairly subtle A Spool of Blue Thread is an enthralling read. It is a family saga, a story of love and loss and a home across generations. This was the first of Anne Tyler’s novels I have read, but it certainly won’t be the last.