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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

A Portrait Of American Society

A Spool of Blue Thread: A novel - Anne Tyler

A Spool Of Blue Thread is a portrait of the complicated web of idiosyncrasies, expectations, disappointments and duties that make up the life of an extended family. There are a great many characters but they are all beautifully observed and their well-meaning but hopelessly near-sighted  struggle to deal with the decline of their aging parents feels somehow emblematic of American society.


There is a great deal of delightfully-handled ensemble writing here. The dialogue switches back and forth between the characters with all the rapidity and apparent randomness of real life but each individual's  conversation is carefully built up out of habits of speech, patterns of behaviour, conscious or unconscious role-playing.


So that when those roles finally begin to break down under the stress of a death in the family, it comes as quite a shock. It also feels very real. Here are people who have grown tired of personalities they have created for themselves in response to the behaviour of their family and who suddenly feel the need to re-evaluate themselves.


As with the rest of Anne Tyler's oeuvre, that need to understand yourself both within and outside your family lies at the heart of the work and in this novel she has perhaps explored it at least as well, if not better, than in any other. Her vision of individuals as both endearing and irritating feels entirely true to experience. For me, what this books displays, most of all, is Anne Tyler's consummate craftsmanship and her abiding humanity.