Written by Ella Walker


Shelf Life

This week Ella Walker assesses A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler. Is it worthy of a permanent place on her shelf?

book in a dream landscapeWas it love at first sight?

I came to this book thanks to a pile of wet leaves on a sodden Monday morning. Happily cycling to work, everything suddenly went wrong: scratched up knees, handbag contents strewn across the road, bike chain no longer co-operating – all thanks to a mistimed swerve around a stack of slippery leaves.

I made it to work (yep, I’m a trooper), complained about my torn tights, and then around lunchtime got all dizzy, sick and shaky and remembered, oh yeah, I whacked the back of my head! Between tears and dashing to A&E for a check-up, A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler was the first book I saw in WH Smith and I grabbed it in preparation for an afternoon in a NHS waiting room. There was no love involved whatsoever, just sheer convenience.

How long did it take you to feel truly comfortable around each other?

Well, in that waiting room my eyes were swimming and everyone was coughing, so it wasn’t quite so easy to slip into as it was to end up sprawled on tarmac. And then my wonderful A&E doctor informed me that reading is not advisable when you have concussion, so it got discarded for at least a week and a half.

How would you describe it behind its back?

Wishy-washy comes to mind. While it doesn’t sprawl, this generational tale of a semi-dysfunctional family and their handcrafted home – from the controversial porch swing to boxes of hidden letters and a ramshackle sewing room – is difficult to hold onto. Perhaps that’s the point: the fluidity of life, rolling through a house, picking up visitors and secrets and memories as it goes.

“I have this rule: don’t read books nominated for the Man Booker Prize. I break this rule a lot, and then remember (repeatedly) why I have the rule in the first place.”

Yet the house, which anchors the novel, has no true heart to it. It yanks in stragglers, repels and magnetises the younger members of the family (particularly the inherently unlikeable Denny, around whom all emotion revolves), but there’s a hollowness to it that most critics seem to have interpreted as an “unflinching portrayal of family life”…

Could you take it on holiday with you, without getting severely hacked off after three days?

You could take it, but you’d find yourself forgetting it on the beach, or accidentally dropping it in the pool and not feeling all too miffed. It’d just waste hand luggage space. Leave it at home for a miserable afternoon when you’re really, really bored and your book club has told you to read it (because it’s guaranteed that it’s going to be a ‘book club book’).

Did it make you laugh out loud?

Nope. Not once. Not even a small chuckle.

A Spool of Blue Thread coverYou’ve had a nightmare time. Would it provide the understanding to get you through / soak up your tears?

It might make you remember that all families are prone to crumbling at times, and that your problems aren’t all that dramatic in the grand scheme of things – but it will also make you want your mum desperately.

Would you let it meet your other friends?

I have this rule: don’t read books nominated for the Man Booker Prize. I break this rule a lot, and then remember (repeatedly) why I have the rule in the first place. Once again I have been left disappointed by the worthy wordiness of a Man Booker nominated book. So no, I will not be inflicting my personal failure on my friends. Unless they liked fellow Man Booker favourite, Wolf Hall, in which case they’re welcome to it (cannot believe I persevered with that one).

How would you describe your commitment levels – did you put the effort in?

To be fair, I did finish it. However, my new rule for 2016 is: if not enjoying a book, put it down. Life’s far too short and busy to force-read books you don’t like.

If you suddenly stumbled across it after several years of lost contact, do you reckon you would:
a) Think of it fondly but accept you’d both moved on (keep but don’t read)
b) Pick up exactly where you left off (reread every few years)
c) Ditch it, obviously you were never really friends.

Definitely c) – in fact, mosey into a certain Oxfam in South London and you’ll probably find my copy nestling up against charity shop favourites The Lovely Bones and The Time Traveller’s Wife. Has anyone ever been in a charity shop without these two hanging around on a shelf? Surely EVERYONE has read them by now?!

Next month Ella will be reading Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari.


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Written by Ella Walker

Ella Walker is an entertainment writer and book blogger living in Cambridge. She likes swimming in the sea and eating biscuits. Preferably at the same time.