Women in the 1930s had very little say in what they could do with their lives. They were expected to get married, have children, take care of their parents. They were givers. The only power they could yield was through gossip, policing each other in case one of them dared step outside the boundaries set by the patriarchy.
Violet is a 38 year old woman, single and without any real prospect for happiness as defined by those boundaries. She relocates away from her suffocating, tyrant of a mother, and tries to make a life for herself by getting a job and joining an embroiderers group who make kneelers and cushions for the Cathedral. Little by little, we witness Violet’s growth through small acts of rebellion.
This was a book I would never have picked up if it weren’t for my book club. I read most genres but a book like this wouldn’t have piqued my interest. The story was interesting enough to keep me reading, but at times it felt a little disjointed (there were chunks of time missing from the narration and I sometimes wondered if I’d accidentally skipped a chapter). I didn’t find Violet believable as a character: timid one moment, sleeping with strangers the next. Her grief wasn’t tangible, fleshed out. All other characters lacked a distinct voice except Mrs Pesel (maybe because she actually existed). Arthur in particular seemed terribly bland for a love interest. Yet, the people in her life are supposed to be catalysts for the growth she is experiencing.
I also felt that Chevalier’s style of writing was jarring on occasion. It’s hard to describe exactly what bothered me, especially as it didn’t happen very often, but it was as if I was listening to a friend telling me something about his or her life, instead of reading a book by an actual author: “First we did this, and then this happened…” It took me out of the story – which otherwise flowed so effortlessly.
Generally though this was an easy, pleasant, harmless little book that made me think about how even small acts of rebellion can, over time, change one’s life. And the more I think about it, the more acts of subtle rebellion I recall from it. A nice enough look into women’s lives in the 1930s.