Book review: A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

The book:
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
Published in 2015 by Chatto and Windus
Pages: 368
My copy: Library

The blurb:

spool‘It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon…’

This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she and Red fell in love that day in July 1959. The whole family on the porch, relaxed, half-listening as their mother tells the same tale they have heard so many times before.

And yet this gathering is different. Abby and Red are getting older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them and their beloved family home. They’ve all come, even Denny, who can usually be relied on only to please himself.

From that porch we spool back through three generations of the Whitshanks, witnessing the events, secrets and unguarded moments that have come to define who and what they are.

My thoughts…

I love Anne Tyler books and was really looking forward to this, her latest and apparently last novel. It follows the Whitshank family over several generations, and we get to know many members over the 350+ pages.

As with all Tyler novels, it is all about the characters – she makes the ordinary extraordinary and the mundane fascinating. And I really enjoyed this novel at first. Abby and Red have four children and of these Denny is the most interesting. He’s strange and elusive, appearing and disappearing from the family at will over the years, and often taking the family by surprise as he does at the very start of the novel when he rings up and tells the family he’s gay. This character alone is enough for his own novel as he’s so complex and you really wonder why he behaves as he does.

Abby is also a great character – she’s frustrating but loveable and is a typical Tyler creation.

The story developed brilliantly – until about two thirds of the way through when there was a flashback section. Although this section told more interesting stories, it really detracted from the flow of the main story and it just frustrated me! I could have done without it and found it hard to get interested in it when I just wanted to get back to the main story.

Once I had finished this novel I felt a bit disappointed. As Tyler’s last novel I wanted it to be perfect, and I really feel it could have been if it had been more focused on one generation of characters and not gone back in time for a section of the novel. However, despite this, it is still a brilliant book and perfectly showcases Tyler’s talent for creating incredible, fascinating characters. I’m gutted it’s her last, but I’ll be revisiting her previous novels for years to come!

My rating: 8 out of 10



  1. This was actually the first Anne Tyler I had read and I decided to follow it up by reading another to get a better feel for what she is known for. I asked for a few recommendations and ended up reading A Ladder of Years, which was great and very thought-provoking.

    I enjoyed A Spool of Thread, in particular discovering later on in the book the background narrative to Red’s parents, Junior Whitshank and Linnie, and how they came to be living in the family home, such different dynamics to the family that grows up in such a home as if it has always been their’s and as if their position in society has always been so sure. Each generation has it’s challenges and problems to resolve, in pursuit of creating that smooth external perception of themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comments! Interesting that you enjoyed the flashback section – while I did like this part of the book I wanted to get back to the current day crop of characters!
      Other Anne Tyler books I enjoyed were Noah’s Compass and The Accidental Tourist.

      Liked by 1 person

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