Book Club: A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Henpicked’s book of the month for February 2017

A Spool of Blue Thread book by Anne Tyler with a spool of blue thread in the backgroundWell we loved Crow Lake by Mary Lawson, and we would highly recommend the book. Please check out the reviews.

A huge thank you to our book champions and to the Henpicked community for their comments and reviews. If you have any further thoughts please drop them into Disqus at the bottom of the article.

We’re really excited to announce that A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler is our book of the month for February, another author recommended by one of our Henpicked Book Club regulars, Imogen Jamieson, and it’s highly rated:

The Sunday Times best seller

Shortlisted for the Man Booker prize

Shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Fiction prize

A Richard and Judy Book Club pick

We’re looking for 10 book champions so if you would like to volunteer, please let us know. We give each of our champions a FREE copy of the book of the month in return for hearing what they think of it.

Just like last month, we’ll let our book club subscribers have some key points about the book to think about throughout the month and in the meantime, please do get reading!

Feel free to jump into the discussion about the book at any time during the month using Disqus which is ready and waiting for you and shows up at the bottom of this page – it’s free to sign up and once you are logged in, you can comment on any of the articles on the Henpicked website.

Other book suggestions

Thank you to everyone who made suggestions for our book of the month. We had a good selection of books and these included: Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín Cartes Postales From Greece by Victoria Hislop, Something by or Lionel ShriverThe Book Thief by Markus ZusakJust One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi TaylorWhile My Eyes Were Closed by Linda GreenThe Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.

Please share news of our book club with your friends and encourage them to sign up and join our book club. You don’t need to be a member to comment but signing up will ensure that you receive our regular newsletters so that we can keep you updated with events.

We welcome you all and remember there is no right or wrong with reading – everyone’s opinion counts.

Happy reading!!


About Henpicked

From the Henpicked team!

  • Lesley

    I loved reading this book but such sadness the pye family so much abuse

  • Imogen Jamieson

    I always enjoy Anne Tyler’s novels and for me, this one didn’t disappoint! Happy reading one and all and I can’t wait to hear what you all think……:)

  • Tracy Wood

    I started this last night and I am enjoying it immensely. The writing flows beautifully and the characters, so far are likeable faults and all. Quite a lot happened in the first 50 pages, and gave the reader a good insight into the modern day family before going back in time in chapter two. I am looking forward to meeting the ancestors this evening.

    • Paula Sharratt

      Mine had dropped through the letterbox while I was out, so tonight is the first for me. I like Anne Tyler, A Patchwork Planet was the first I read. I’m really looking forward to it. Enjoy yours

  • Generosity

    A Spool of Blue Thread; yes it’s an interesting book so far. Anne Tyler is very skilled at expressing the unexpressed and inexpressible in the lives of ordinary people: in a way she’s a great unreliable narrator and gives it back to us, creating a real place to talk and develop ideas about family life, history, growing up and on and getting older. It’s great. Thanks Henpicked!

  • Paula Sharratt

    Anne Tyler: “I’ve found out that anytime I talk about my writing, I can’t do any writing for many weeks afterward.”

    (Yes but you make other people talk and that’s what’s so great about the work of Anne Tyler, A Spool of Blue Thread is no exception.

    Leo Tolstoy: ‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’

    Anne Tyler:

    “There was nothing remarkable about the Whitshanks,” she writes. “But like most families, they imagined they were special. . . . They made a little too much of the family quirks’.


    Abby, part of the past not part of the new future the sprawling hope of the 1960’s 70’s, social worker, maker of welcomes, now retreating into a place where she isn’t really welcome.

    The question is why doesn’t america (and the UK) recognise the unversality of aging?

    The house that Red’s dad, Junior built: and how it continues to be built and developed as the family meet, connect, or not and how the desire to create and build and make something of themselves is changed.

    Everyone gravitates to the porch.

    Here we’d say it was the kitchen, the place where in earlier generations in the UK, because the man had gone out to work, the kitchen drew women in and together to talk, to drink coffee and change the world just a bit before the chores and everyone else comes home

    Denny is carefully drawn and generationally, you see the cultural changes of american society and its conflicts in his character.

    He’s tolerant and intolerant, conformist and non conformist, the chameleon like and emotionally distant kind of character that you’d find in Vernon God Little, for example, the satire on the Columbine shooting. What’s interesting for me is all the problems and issues of america can be seen in this spool. Denny is a mystery.

    We should talk about this, and these people, for years!

    Adopted Stem and his beautiful and really quite strange wife, Nora. Abby’s husband Red, living in his father, Junior’s shoes, going deaf, or is he really? The house was originally built for another family and did Junior take back what he’d built (here you could see a nod to reparations for slavery?)

    The idea of unanswered calls and dislocation of reason and feeling is at the centre of this book, I’m really enjoying it and savouring it, reading a bit before nodding off…..

    • A great deal of truth in the Tolstoy quote and Tyler makes clever use of the subject in this book – haven’t finished yet, mind you. I feel the familiarity of the mother who wants to be trusted and loved by her children but in doing so alienates them somehow. Abby is retreating as you say, withdrawing and I wonder now that will resolve itself as the book continues.

      • Paula Sharratt

        Abby Jane, so interesting!

  • Paula Sharratt

    This is getting more and more interesting: Abby!!!!!

  • Kay Garrett

    This was fairly easy to read at first but then I found myself losing interest with the shifts in time. It seemed quite a rambling narrative and I couldn’t invest properly in any of the characters. Seems more people are enjoying it than not so I guess it just isn’t my cup of tea – it was inoffensive but I prefer a bit more punch.

    • Ciara Kelly

      Kay, I agree with you. I was overall disappointed with the book.

    • Tracey Madeley

      That’s really interesting. I found the way she handled the changes in time one of the best examples I have ever read, because she links in the characters before she makes the change. Some narratives move too quickly to a back story before you’ve had chance to figure out who the characters are and their relationship to one another.
      I understand the problem with a slower pace. As modern readers it is something we generally don’t enjoy. There are moments of crisis with Abbey’s illness and Linnie Mae’s dreadful behaviour, but they are muted. They are not the shouting, throwing, violent confrontations we may expect from modern entertainment. For me Denny’s resentment of Stem is just as strong and as passionate, as any aggressive confrontation.
      Perhaps as we have had similar books for January & February it would be nice to have something different for March.

  • Trudi Saxton

    Really engrossed in this book, family centred, about halfway through, excellent characters, i almost feel i am present wuth them. Wondering where it is going next….major situation with main character unexpectedly happended

  • Ciara Kelly

    My favourite strand of the story was Abby and Red’s. I didn’t enjoy reading about the younger generation half as much!

  • Paula Sharratt

    I think it’s the way Anne Tyler gets across the way women create the light and life in situations but no one is really curious about who anyone really is or wants to be. I thought the way she questioned the idea of ‘story’, the stories we tell ourselves the stories we tell others and the ones they tell us had to be thin, had to be just hinted at through illness, alienation, dementia, death and bereavement.
    It made me think about how stories keep people talking and communicating especially when they think they’ve got nothing to say!

  • Paula Sharratt

    The choice of title changes everything when you realise ….

  • I’m just finishing the part with Junior and LInnie Mae’s back story. I’ve found the transitions in time work well and I like the way it presents us with an alternative narrative to the stories we’ve already been told.

  • Trudi Saxton

    Just finished reading this book, struggled with the time change and lost a little interest, saw it through to the end and did gain more insight into the character’s backgrounds. Admired the quality of the writing but the story didn’t grip me enough. First Anne Tyler book I have read, thanks for the opportunity. Not sure I’d seek out more however.

    • Paula Sharratt

      Sorry you think that: have a look at her other books or listen to them as audio books. She really understands people I think, very gentle yet a clear, strong identity and voice.

      • Trudi Saxton

        Thanks Paula, that’s a good suggestion. I get the gentleness, understanding and strength comments.

  • Paula Sharratt

    The way Junior and Linnie May’s story unravels their lives clearly shows how ‘love’ and ‘family’ are something everyone seeks but at the same time shrinks from. The idea of a woman unmaking the thing that she’s spent her whole life making like a blue thread unspooling or unraveling is interesting.

    I thought it was really sad how Abby always kept on doing the things that she thought were right, for everyone, while the only person who really understood her as a person was probably Denny? Yet he was ‘outside’ the family economy.

    I don’t know! In fiction though, as in life, really, there are no insiders or outsiders it just makes it easier to tell part of a story?

  • Katie Williams

    This is my first Anne Tyler book. I thought it was going to be a bit apple-pie ish and dull, but the book develops and is engaging me. I am just over halfway. My favourite character by far is Denny. He really sees people as they are.

    • Paula Sharratt

      That’s such a good point: they’re all drawn so well in their separate worlds but Denny’s character and the ‘role’ he plays for everyone throws light on so much more than him

  • Paula Sharratt

    I think the interesting part is how the circumstances and unseen pressures create and destroy. It’s a radical book really getting under the skin of power and control…we need to think about how the entrepreneurial spirit, the self made person in America (think of Donald Trump and the character of Junior) creates the nightmares that haunt future generations.

  • Norfolkwren

    On the whole I think I enjoyed the book but it’s not one I would go telling all my friends that they should read. I too found it a slow starter & it took me a while to get into its rhythm. I didn’t mind the time changes and also found them quite enlightening especially reading about Junior & Linnie Mae’s start.
    I found Denny’s character annoying & I’m not sure I ever understood the reason he never told his family what he was up to, however that probably says more about me than him!
    I agree with Tracy regarding the use of Mother & Father Whitshank. It made my hackles rise everytime!
    If I came across another of her novels I would pick it up but I’m not rushing out searching for them.

  • Just finished this last night and it left me feeling sad – the dismantling of the house, Denny heading off to his uncertain future (Red also), the unresolved family resentments … Tyler makes a very clear statement about family and the stories we construct around them; how roles are found and made for family members, how siblings struggle to find their place, the jealousies and resentments that simmer on. I do like the open,
    clear-eyed way Tyler observes and the wry, witty way she shines a light on people’s foibles (I did actually laugh out loud a few times). I don’t think I liked any of the characters very much though, and some were drawn too lightly but it seemed no-one took responsibility for themselves or their behaviour. In the end I felt a little sorry for the house – bearing witness to their dishonesty, harbouring the ghosts of their dreams – and I hoped for a happier ending for it.

  • Imogen Jamieson

    What I like about Anne Tyler is that she writes so observantly about (mostly) ordinary people and therefore her books are relatable in many ways. I agree with other comments made that the plot isn’t ground breaking and that there are some lengthy passages which don’t set the world alight but I like the tenderness AT seems to have for her characters and how she draws the reader into their individual lives.
    AT isn’t all sex, drugs and rock n roll but she is quietly deft at reaching out to her readers and she creates novels that resonate. I happily recommended AT to my daughter and my mother!
    I am happy to see that next month’s novel is by a male author and although I have seen the film already, I am looking forward to reading Brooklyn.

  • Alli Batten

    Tried to like this book but sadly I found it slow moving and boring!
    I have never read any other books by this author and didn’t have any preconceived ideas about her style of writing.
    There were parts I found amusing and touching but it was hard to keep going with a book that I quickly lost interest in.

    Oh well,better luck next time!

  • Paula Sharratt

    Ha ha! I love this book because it tells the truth about American life: you can see that the choices the second generation have are determined by the things that happened to the previous generation in a way that makes you feel ‘ well, I hope I don’t do that’ but overall it’s about how we pull the plug on older people I think before they’re ready. We should tread softly on each other’s dreams maybe

  • Lisa Knill

    I found this book to be a true mix of pages that were unputdownable, others that were confusing, which I couldn’t follow and some where I felt the author was trying to be mysterious but somehow it didn’t follow through. At the end I was glad that I had completed the book but I found it rather disappointing, I probably wouldn’t recommend it to my friends and I’m really surprised that it was up for a Man Booker award in 2015. Shame it showed such promise.

  • Paula Sharratt

    It’s written in a kind of stream of consciousness way, like Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, where you discover at the end who the narrator is, I think…in a way we’re all right, it is fragmented and joyful and shocking and in a way from the perspective of everyone and the underdog and the house. The way Junior abused Linnie May: the ruthless way he takes both Linnie May and the house belonging to the Brill’s (I think he put the burglar’s tools in the house to frighten Mrs Brill) and the way Linnie May then tramples on his dream (the swing and pouring the blue paint all over the back yard… because she realises just what he’s done…how each one of them makes up a whole that is a hole….and in a way it’s like cultural and personal dementia…how America was built on slavery (Ignored almost by the writer in a way that makes you realise how important it is…how Americans raped the indigenous Indians and how just as shocking is how justice is redressed, by individuals, just taking the law, whichever ‘law’ it might be personal, social, moral, into their own hands…which in a way explains the pioneer in America but also shows how everything in America is as much contested today as it was in the very beginning.

  • sally hughes

    I am a huge fan of Anne Tyler mainly for her understated depiction of family life. Big things don’t happen in her novels, except they do. The ‘big things’ are the relationships and tiny minutiae of families and their interactions. I am often stopped in my tracks by the thought, ‘my goodness she really gets it’. For most of ‘Spool’ I felt that this was Tyler at her best, right up to the death of Abi and then I was puzzled by the need to write more. I found the latter chapters confusing and confused and I ultimately felt that they detracted from the main part of the novel.
    The phone call to Denny early on in the book was sheer genius – every family has a ‘Denny’ – for writing like this I would really recommend this book.

  • Paula Sharratt

    The spool of blue thread is also the spilling of the blue paint by Linnie May the call of an action and a reaction, good and bad: as if they are all orphans in a mixed up, just in time family that is really like America. It’s tragedy and freedom and choice and slavery. Denny sees and feels the man sobbing silently when he begins to focus on his own emotions for the first time after Red leaves home. Everything is always, slightly out of joint. Seeing that, feeling that though doesn’t change his Denny like response, he turns away. There is hope though because, for the first time in his life he is able to sit in (nearly) the same place as his feelings. Go Denny!