Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Hidden Thread by Liz Trenow

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 22, 2017

The Hidden Thread is a breathtaking novel about the intricate craft of silk and the heartbreak of forbidden love. When Anna Butterfield's mother dies, she's sent to live with her uncle, a silk merchant in London, to make a good match and provide for her father and sister. There, she meets Henri, a French immigrant and apprentice hoping to become a master weaver. But Henri, born into a lower class, becomes embroiled in the silk riots that break out as weavers protest for a fair wage. New York Times bestselling author Liz Trenow weaves a luminous tale of class struggle and star-crossed love.

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Industry and Idleness, Plate 1; The Fellow 'Prentices at their Looms
by William Hogarth.
Excuse my candor, but I’d love to know what the designer was thinking when they created the jacket for Liz Trenow’s The Hidden Thread. Were they not informed that novel takes place in the 1760s or does Sourcebooks Landmark honestly think American readers are too dense to notice the anachronistic imagery? My money is on the latter as twentieth century literature is trending in the American market, but either way I am intensely disappointed with the misrepresentation of content seen on this cover which is why I think it appropriate to begin my review by setting the record straight.

For those who decided to skip the blurb, The Hidden Thread takes place in the 18th century. If you require a historical a point of reference, George III is on the throne and America is about fifteen years away Lexington and Concord. Stiff-bodied gowns are all the rage as are frock coats and knee length breeches. The story, despite its fictional protagonist, is inspired by the life of Anna Maria Garthwaite who was an English textile designer renowned for the intricate floral designs she created from hand-woven silk fabrics. Her caricature's connection to artist William Hogarth is also fictional though it should be noted that the nature of Hogarth’s association with the weavers of Spitalfields is rooted in speculation of historic fact.

I’ve been a Trenow fan since her debut release and couldn’t wait to get my hands on The Hidden Thread, but the reality of the novel caught me off-guard. I liked the characters and their individual arcs, but the historic context didn’t engage my imagination the way The Forgotten Seamstress, The Last Telegram, or The Poppy Factory had. I’ve nothing against authors venturing into new territory and knew from the description that the novel represented a new direction for Trenow, but at the end of the day, I didn’t feel The Hidden Thread as authentically atmospheric as its predecessors.

That said, I was fascinated by the degree of relevancy incorporated into this lesser known chapter of English history. Tensions between English weavers and their immigrant counterparts ran so high in the 1760s that they actually erupted into a series of disturbances known as the Spitalfield riots. Class inequality, fair wages, and fair trade policies all played a role in the conflicts, but the prejudice Henri suffers as a French immigrant had a familiar ring to it. I can’t speak for the author or other readers, but I personally couldn’t help appreciating the pertinence of the ideas his storyline inspired and the parallels it drew to the referendum known as Brexit.

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If I ever get out of here, I will do everything to regain her friendship, he promised himself. But this flicker of hope was followed by an even deeper despair when an official arrived to tell him that his trial had been set for the following week. The prospect of release seemed more distant than ever, and he had almost lost hope of ever getting out of prison alive, save for the journey to the gibbet.
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