Reading Anne Tyler’s 20th novel A Spool of Blue Thread, reviewed here, first felt a little like turning to the back of the book before reading it through. This is how it ends, three generations upended, we found out how they came to be and what their origins were at the end.
What a great book!
Still set in the same small town Baltimore, another family, this time we are inside the mind of Delia Grinstead, the youngest of three adult sisters, daughters of a local GP who has recently passed away. He had been living with Delia and her husband, who is also a GP, one who took over the practice from her father where Delia remained the administrator, first to her father, then to her husband, never leaving home.
A smooth transition from daughter of the Doctor to wife of the Doctor, the same home, raising three children, taking the same holiday year after year, viewing the same holiday neighbours over the fence year after year, speculating about their family members, having never spoken a word to them.
Delia doesn’t appear disgruntled, but one day while on holiday she walks off down the beach (a bit like our Harold Fry) in her husband’s beach robe and just keeps going.
What follows is something like the winding back of the clock, a version of what her life might have been, had her husband chosen sister number 1 or sister number 2 and not sister number 3, Delia.
It’s not dramatic, it’s almost sensible, if we can use that word about someone who just walks out on their life like that. She expresses no hatred, disappointment or loss, she thinks only about herself in the present and responds always to the requests of others – rather than see fault in her own actions, she interprets others confusion or hurt with, “if they had only asked”, she offers little proactively and yet will respond to anything if asked.
She is something of an enigma and at first I wondered how she could so easily leave behind her children without much thought, then I wondered if she was menopausal, because at that time women lose a lot of that hormone that makes them so fiercely protective and maternal towards their children, or were they just more grown up and less in need of her?
She doesn’t have a lot to say about her motives, it is as if she acted without understanding the deep need inside her to move. Another reader commented “she reminds me of a spoiled youngest born who does just about everything without motivation“
I don’t have much of an insight into youngest borns as a type, but Delia was certainly quietly mysterious, I found the novel compelling, without any clear or stated motivation, she was unpredictable and yet ever so conservative.
Brilliantly constructed, a compelling read, I really enjoyed Ladder of Years and was intrigued right up until the last page. And bizarrely, there is also a spool of blue thread in this book, a small detail written twenty years ago(published in 1995), that would one day grow up to become an entire novel of its own.