A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

A Spool of Blue Thread is a family saga woven around the Whitshanks’ treasured house. Beginning and ending with the problem child, Denny, the novel unravels the reasons for his troubled behaviour offering us insights into three generations of Whitshanks, their dreams, their relationships and their secrets.

There is much to love about the novel. It would be hard to read about this family and not feel any sense of recognition. The dialogue and psychology of family drama is sharp and insightful. That doesn’t always mean it makes for pleasant reading.

There are too many ways in which an unpicking of this book would spoil the flow of the plot as it moves back, further back and then forward again in time through its four parts and I don’t want to spoil the plot when you have underage sex, coerced marriage, illegal adoption and fake burglary to enjoy. I do, however, want to unpick what it is that stops me loving this book wholeheartedly.

A Spool of Blue Thread is astute and interesting but it is also a little sentimental; its message about life is underwhelmingly safe. There is mystery, disappointment, love, death, and the unending process of simply carrying on – this is of course all true to life – but the risk and suffering in some of the characters lives never really comes through for me. There are some wonderful moments and Anne Tyler is undoubtedly a writer with a keen observational eye but I think in the end this novel, for me at least, lacks a clear message and possibly even a sense of drama.

This isn’t an easy thing to write, given that I think it’s unlikely I would be able to write this kind of family saga with anywhere near the same level of skill, but I simply wanted A Spool of Blue Thread to give me more.

I have no doubt that many will and already do love this book, and I did enjoy reading it, but ultimately it isn’t for me.

Next week I’m reading Minna Needs Rehearsal Space and Karate Chop by Dorthe Nors.

2 thoughts on “A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

  1. Like you, I was disappointed with this novel. I couldn’t identify my reasons, except to say I found it rather long and boring. Indeed I no longer recall much of the story.
    So thank you for helping me to understand why I felt like that.
    I am now reading and loving Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. Now that is great writing and I am sure I won’t forget it.

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