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Novel set in Baltimore (a family saga)

5th December 2015

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, novel set in Baltimore.

Four generations of the Whitshanks have all been model citizens of their local communities, respected and admired by all. Except, of course, for Denny Whitshank. However, is everyone quite as they seem?


A considerable part of the action of this novel is based in the family home; it is as if the world outside scarcely exists. Abby and her husband Red bring up their children, enjoy their grandchildren and make a welcome home for family and acquaintances in need. However family get-togethers gradually begin to reveal undercurrents and secrets, and why after decades of beach holidays next to the same family have they never spoken to them?

The book moves seamlessly from the 1920s to 2012, not always in chronological order, gradually exploring why things are as they are, and the family history and relationships. As Abby talks about the “circularity” of family life, so the various Whitshank roles over time become clearer, and it is evident that first impressions are not always correct.

The house is an important part of the story – almost a character in itself. The author takes the reader through the building of the house, including some very witty anecdotes, how Red’s father came to own it, and how it changes over time in parallel with the occupiers and the events going on in their lives. As the house is lived in by the different generations, so wonderful descriptions of the goings on within emerge and so the characters of the home owners are drawn. As with the house, one wonders how much of the external facade of the occupants is just for show, and how much is at their real heart?

There are some interesting underlying themes, such as what makes a family – relationships, arguments … certainly a lot more than just blood ties. Does one every fully understand one’s own role in a family unit?  Are some secrets best kept forever?

The characters, although not particularly likeable, are very real – and most readers will know people like them – perhaps that is what makes this book very readable.

At the back of the book are a list of questions for discussion – beware these questions contain storyline spoilers!

For lovers of this genre, this book is a winner. As the story builds, new perspectives are added as the time shifts reveal hitherto unknown details. By the final few chapters the storyline is moving very fast, with revelations undoing previously held assumptions about the characters. This is a book that many may like to re-read, as what is revealed by the end of the book changes the reader’s perspective of characters’ actions earlier in the book.

Suitable for all the family, this is a book that can be read and enjoyed just for itself, or provide much material for thought and discussion. Either way its sure to be another success for Anne Tyler, and has already been on the Sunday Times bestseller list and a contender for the Man Booker Prize.

Emma for the TripFiction Team

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For more books set in USA, click here – you can drill down by State then city…


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