A Hundred Tiny Threads by Judith Barrow

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.

Diane Andersen’s Review: 4-Stars

The plight of one young woman growing up in Wales during a time of imminent change and controversy is the subject of this novel. Winifred is the only child of a prosperous shopkeeper in a Welsh village, when she is caught up with the suffragette movement by her rather pushy Irish friend. In spite of her parents’ warnings, Winifred flaunts their authority, and her own safety, and stubbornly attends protest marches that end in violence.

Her friends keep dragging her back into the fray, constantly manipulating and coercing her back into their political agenda, all the while thinking only of themselves and their rebellious cause. Along the way, she haplessly falls for her friend’s charming Irish brother who seduces her and leaves her pregnant, only to return years later with some flimsy excuse for why he never made a vigilant effort to find her again, even though she never moved too far from where she grew up. Problem is, now she is in a marriage of convenience to a man who has worshiped her from a far but whose jealous rage at her earlier indifference cost her family dearly.

If this is all sounding like a bad soap opera, it pretty much is! A Hundred Tiny Threads is an apt description as the plot weaves in and out of key points in early 20th century history from the suffragette movement to the Easter Rebellion, the Great War and dissension between the English and Irish with the Black and Tans incidents. Much of this is merely background though, happening behind the scenes or info dumped by characters as if quoting a social studies book.

The driving point of the story seems to be that women of this era were constantly oppressed by men at every turn and only those independent-minded, like Winifred, were justified in any action it took to overcome their circumstances. Basically, the entire story smacks of an agenda with a didactic approach that I found irritating and overbearing. Winifred is the point of view character, so I suppose it stands to reason she would think her actions justified, but I found her to be spoiled, impetuous, naïve and immature. “Whiney Winnie” suits her quite nicely.

Her mother, a bitter heartless woman, never seems to have any shred of decency about her, almost making her more of a prop for Winifred to rebel against than a well-drawn damaged character in her own right. Had there been a bit more balance between the flaws and virtues of all characters, I would have found this an entirely worthwhile story to read. But being force fed the views of the author rather than making my own, put me in mind of those poor suffragettes who were force-fed and beaten by police for their independent views. In the end, this reader was the most oppressed one of all. Only because of the fact this story covered a time period I do enjoy reading about, I’m giving this 4.0 stars.

Terence Vicker’s Review: 4.5-Stars

Morrisfield England 1911-

Winifred, daughter of a shopkeeper, with an overbearing controlling mother and a supportive but ineffectual father.

Honora, Irish immigrant comes to the shop and entices Winifred into attending meetings of a women’s right’s to vote group, the Suffragettes, in the early part of the twentieth century.

Honora’s brother Conal a handsome seemingly carefree young man who also supports women’s rights.

Winnifred falls in love and one thing leads to another, which leads to Winifred gaining an unsavory reputation among the town gossips.

The threads of this historic tale are many and well tangled but are easy for the reader to follow. I didn’t research the historical accuracy of the book but I do believe it paints a reasonable picture of the times and place where the events occur. I enjoyed reading it particularly for the peek into the past about events that I knew very little about.

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