The prequel to the Pattern of Shadows series, A Hundred Tiny Threads explores the lives of Winifred Duffy and Bill Howarth up to the beginning of their lives together.
Winifred lives with her mother, the very unpleasant Ethel, and her much nicer and long suffering father, and works in the family’s grocery shop. Winifred is an innocent, leading a very sheltered life ruled by her mother. Until the day Honora O’Reilly enters her life with her independence and talk of a better life for women, persuading Winifred to join the Suffragette movement. That, and meeting Conal, Honora’s brother, changed Winifred’s life in ways she could never have envisioned.
The story alternates between the lives of Winifred and Bill Howarth, a young man who didn’t have the best of starts. Things were set to become so much worse for Bill with the terrible traumas and aftermath of life in the trenches during WW1 and his violent and cruel experiences with the Black and Tans. And although his nature was completely unappealing, the things he went through during the war went some way to explaining his character.
I can’t even imagine what that experience would do to someone but I think Bill already had the beginnings of those tendencies that eventually came to the fore. Winifred, on the other hand, was an engaging character, easy to empathise with. There were no options for women in those days, and Winifred’s life was restrictive and quite sad for the most part. No wonder it wore her down. Having the story from both Winifred and Bill’s perspectives was very effective in building their characters, and gave the narrative impact.
Judith Barrow brings the characters and era to life, with authentic, vividly descriptive and atmospheric prose and dialogue. It’s an incredibly well crafted story and gives a compelling insight into life in the early part of the last century, the obviously well researched historical aspects are fascinating.
No era is without its problems but life was certainly very challenging in the early 20th century. The reality is shown in a gritty true to life form. Nothing is glossed over; the harshness and hardships of everyday life, the horrors of the trenches and the aggressive treatment of the Suffragettes. I enjoyed the Pattern of Shadows trilogy very much and it was very satisfying to learn about Winifred and Bill’s early lives, the way their experiences shaped the people they became.
It’s 1911 and Winifred Duffy is a determined young woman eager for new experiences, for a life beyond the grocer’s shop counter ruled over by her domineering mother.
The scars of Bill Howarth’s troubled childhood linger. The only light in his life comes from a chance encounter with Winifred, the girl he determines to make his wife.
Meeting her friend Honora’s silver-tongued brother turns Winifred’s heart upside down. But Honora and Conal disappear, after a suffrage rally turns into a riot, and abandoned Winifred has nowhere to turn but home.
The Great War intervenes, sending Bill abroad to be hardened in a furnace of carnage and loss. When he returns his dream is still of Winifred and the life they might have had… Back in Lancashire, worn down by work and the barbed comments of narrow-minded townsfolk, Winifred faces difficult choices in love and life.