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Over Christmas, I had some free time on my hands and decided to read The Thread, which has been on my 'to-read' pile for quite a while. I really enjoyed reading a previous novel by Victoria Hislop so had high expectations for this one too.
The Thread begins with Katerina and Dimitri Komninos in 2007 explaining to their grandson the history of their lives together. This part of the novel is rather brief and we are quickly thrown back to 1917, in Thessaloniki. Dimitri Komninos is a long awaited child born to Olga and Konstantinos Komninos. Shortly after his birth, a large fire rages through Thessaloniki, burning his father's cherished shop to the ground and the palatial house that Konstantinos adores so much. Before the fire, we find out that Thessaloniki was a city with many cultures living side by side, where muslims, jews and christians live in harmony. We're aware that the Greeks and Turks live in short lived peace. Olga and Dimitri end up moving to the old quarter, where Konstantinos is disgusted by the area.
Greece was plunged into choas when Greece and Turkey ended up at war. The city is thrown into disarray and the Turks unleash violence on the citizens of Greece. During this period, a young girl, Katerina is separated from her mother during an exodus towards ships. Katerina is placed onto a boat and is to be temporarily looked after by Eugenia, a mother who has her twin daughters in tow. They end up in a refugee camp where they cope with adversity and come out fighting the other side. The novel follows the stories of Katerina and Dimitri as they live as friends in a close knit community.
I would have expected a novel such as this to be very much a "will they, won't they" get together storyline. However, we know that they do get together because at the very beginning of the novel, we know that they are an old, married couple!
During this story, I really developed a feeling of dislike towards one particular character. Konstantinos Komninos is a right-wing racist who has a clear priority - growing his business and making more money. He has little feeling towards his wife, which we know even prior to Dimitri's birth. I was quite stunned by the events that Konstantinos engineers, particularly in relation to his son. It made me wonder if the man even had a heart as his actions are really quite cowardly and spineless.
His son Dimitri on the other hand, is an example of how good triumphs over bad and how a young person can grow into an adult with an excellent sense of self and determination. He was intended to be a trophy son and to study law to assist his father advance the business, but fortunately he pursues his intended career path.
The other character that I really liked was Eugenia. At a time where the political situation is uneasy to say the least, and where citizens fear for their lives at times, she takes on the responsibility of caring for another young child with two of her own children as well. She is a widow, having lost her husband previously. Whilst she wouldn't have been aware of the fact that she would have Katerina with her in the long-term, she clearly doesn't shy away from the responsibility of treating Katerina like her own child.
The historical events that are told through this book actually happened and it makes you aware of what an interesting history Greece has. Now, history is not my strong point but I do find it rather interesting. I was absolutely blown away by some of the events that occurred in Greece as I had absolutely no idea. The storyline is woven around the history of the events in Greece and really holds your attention. Victoria Hislop has a clear passion for writing about Greece and its islands and she is excellent at describing the scenes in which this novel is set. I have never been to Greece myself, but was easily able to summon up a picture of what Hislop described throughout.
I really enjoyed reading this novel as I love getting hooked into a book. I found the historical element very interesting but also I thought the storyline was very well thought through and interwoven throughout the historical events. This book is definitely an 'easy read' and it doesn't particularly have you working hard to follow the plot etc and I couldn't put it down. I read it in two days which I was quite surprised with, as I just *had* to know what happened next!
I'm going to rate it as 4 stars. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and did lose myself in it, but I think I prefer a deep plot where you really have to think about what's going on!
The RRP of this book is £8.99 but it is currently available on Amazon for £6.29 or £3.49 for the Kindle version. I would say that this book is most definitely worth a read if you want something non taxing to read! £6.29 is a reasonable price for a good book I think!
During the 20th Century, the sea-side Greek city of Thessaloníki saw it all - fires, wars and earthquakes. This is the backdrop of Victoria Hislop's novel "The Thread". In it, we get to know the story of this city through a fictional cast of characters. As the book opens, Katerina and Dmitri's grandson has come to visit. He asks them why they still live in this city, since their children and their families are all in England or the USA. The answer to his question is the story of these two people and this special city.
Novelist Hislop is well known for her love of the Mediterranean. Her first novel "The Island" was about Crete, and her second "The Return" was about Granada, Spain. Hislop attempts in each of her novels to bring her readers into the hearts of these locations. To do this, she weaves a web of characters into the histories of these places. This is even more of a perfect metaphor for "The Thread" since her female protagonist Katerina is a seamstress. But Katerina doesn't just sew dresses; she creates wearable works of art. As for Dmitri - his father is the successful owner of a company that imports and sells fabrics.
While this may sound like an easy set-up for these two to meet, Hislop doesn't take the obvious route. She begins her tale with the city's disastrous fire of 1917. This is just when Dmitri is just born and what forces his mother to move into a very poor neighborhood. Katerina, on the other hand, was born near Smyrna (known as Izmir, today), Turkey and ends up in Thessaloníki as a refugee. She ends up in the same neighborhood and so the stage is set. Of course, at that stage, the two are still very young children. This is what allows Hislop to tell their story, in parallel with the history of the city. This takes us through World War II and through to the earthquake of 1978.
Such a vast backdrop makes for a story whose long time-line is close to epic proportions. So while 400 pages isn't a short novel, it could have been much longer. The key to writing a successful story with such scope is balance. This means that the historical aspects shouldn't overcrowd the characters, or the other way around. To a certain extent, Hislop succeed in this, but not completely.
Where Hislop does succeed is in getting us to empathize with most of her characters. Certainly, we care about Katerina and all she goes through. This starts the minute we find her fleeing from the Turks. But soon after this, the focus seems to widen to other characters. For instance, there's Eugenia, the woman with the twin daughters who becomes the de-facto guardian of Katerina when she's separated from her mother. There's also the Moreno family - the Jews that own the clothing workshop who Katerina becomes neighbors with. Of course, without Dmitry, there is no continuation of the story. But as soon as his wealthy father moves him and his mother away from Katerina and into their mansion, there is a split in focus. In this way, Hislop separates the two stories of these main characters. But this isn't done totally evenly, and the larger emphasis is from Katerina's side. This isn't actually as problematic as it sounds, and you can be assured that you be confused. However, some characters get sidelined along the way, while others fade in and out of the foreground. This can be partially forgiven since otherwise, the book would probably need to be twice as long.
Where Hislop seems to have lost the balance is in the history part, at least in part. On the one hand, her readers need to understand what's going on around these characters. Without that, certain motivations and actions don't make sense. It also helps with the climax of the story. And after you've read the whole book, you'll certainly feel that you know a good deal about this special city. However, there are sections that feel like you're reading a very well written history book. There are also places where politics are described that border on the preachy. These sometimes break the flow of the story, and could easily have been edited down somewhat. Thankfully, Hislop does write in an engaging fashion so that these passages remain at least partially entertaining.
Overall, "The Thread" is a very good read. Hislop gives us sympathetic characters in an almost exotic part of the world. She also tells this story on the backdrop of an era of so many upheavals that they completely change this city's character. This combination had the potential for being a truly amazing epic. The problem is that parts of this novel are slightly unbalanced in terms of character focus. As for the extraneous historical background, readers might choose to skim over some of those sections. If so, they won't be missing much. Considering all this, I'll recommend this novel and give it a solid 3.5 stars out of five.
Victoria Hislop has, for the past few years, been one of the most consistently exciting authors in the UK. With page turners such as The Island selling by the Million, I was awaiting her latest title "The Thread" with much excitement. This is very unusual for me as I tend not to read much fiction work preferring factual books, so that goes some way to suggesting how I consider this author to stand out above the current crop.
Again, I have to say that I am not disappointed and I could use all the clichés for reviewing books such as "could not put it down", "page turner" etc etc and each one would be true. Hislop has an uncanny knack of involving the reader from the very first page to the last, writing in an emotional, enthralling and involving way which will see her continue to be a success for years to come.
The premise for the book is a simple story of enduring and old fashioned love. With the book opening and ending in modern day Greece it would be easy to fall into the trap so many books do of this sort and rely on flashbacks and corner cutting. What Hislop does with the tale though is craft it into a heart-warming classic. Although sentimental and emotional this is never over done in a cheesy way and the simple love story develops into themes of growing up, maturity and the tale of changing times.
The way Hislop handles the sometimes complex narrative here is testament to her skill. Lesser authors would leave readers feeling a little dazed and confused with the interweaving storyline and plot points but Hislop marries the two together with a class and skill that is hard to master. This makes the reader attentive and avoids pushing them away.
The characters themselves are well fleshed out and instantly relatable, they have depth and the dialogue between them is carefully thought out. The pace of the novel is a key point as Hislop doesn't allow things to linger and get dragged down into sentimental gush, instead she fosters a truly human tale that is not only believable but tugs at the heart strings.
Sometimes I feel novels/stories that focus on enduring love are too "false" and "fairytale" like but this is the complete opposite and what we are treated to here is, like I have said, a novel grounded in reality and one that anyone who has been in love can relate to in an instant.
Low key, subtle and in many ways traditional this is an essential read for anyone who en joys good writing. As a rare reader of fiction I have found in Hislop an author with the human touch and one who I am sure will touch many heart strings with the Thread.
Also on CIAO
Although I'm wary of reading books recommended by TV shows, they do tend to be selected on what makes a good read, rather than on the basis of good writing, as with awards like the Booker Prize and one of the best books I've ever read was an Oprah's Book Club selection. Whilst I may not be able to stand Richard and Judy, they've certainly taken to the Book Club idea and they've picked some great authors, including Jo Nesbo whose books are seemingly everywhere at the moment. So when they pick an author for the second time, as with Victoria Hislop's "The Thread", it may be time to sit up and take notice.
On a day in 1917, a child is born in Thessaloniki to wealthy parents. That same day, a fire started by accident burns down large parts of the city and forces the family to move to a poorer areas of the city and to rebuild their business. Mother and child are very happy in their new home, but the father is distracted by the rebuilding of the business and pays little attention. Around the same time, the Greek army attacks the Turkish city of Smyrna, and a young girl is separated from her mother and badly burned. A Greek solider takes care of her and she finds a new family, before eventually being relocated to Thessaloniki and ending up living a couple of doors away from the young boy.
Both children grow. The boy eventually moves back to the rebuilt family mansion, but never settles into a life of wealth and privilege and this brings him into conflict with his father and, later, the invading German Army. The girl grows to become one of the best seamstresses in the city, but her life is also badly affected by the war when her employer and neighbour is shipped off to Poland by the Germans, for no other reason than because they are Jewish.
The early pages of the book didn't fill me with great hope, as there were a number of clunky similes and metaphors which just made it feel as if the author was trying a little too hard. Perhaps this felt particularly annoying to me as she was trying to describe an early morning scene in a part of Greece where I have personally witnessed what she was trying to describe. But it seemed a little awkward and this didn't really endear me to the book in the early pages.
Fortunately, it does improve beyond measure quite quickly. Describing scenery may not be Hislop's strong point, but laying out people's emotions for the world to see definitely is. We follow the lives of these families through their feelings; towards their circumstances, towards each other, towards everything they have and have lost. For the most part, we follow them between love and hate for each other, through their dismay when their Jewish friends are taken away and their joy when long lost friends return.
This is particularly to the fore towards the end of the novel, where the author throws a bit of a change of direction into the mix and the emotions become even stronger. Even someone like me, who rarely feels the emotions expressed within the written word, could feel a tear in my eye at certain parts of the story. For me, this involvement was entirely unexpected and proof of Hislop's skill in making this reader at least feel such great empathy with her characters. Hislop is particularly skilful at expressing the negative emotions; sadness, heartbreak and a sense of loss, far more so than she is at making them feel joy. There are moments of positive emotion here, they just didn't move me in quite the same way and this does give a sense of slight imbalance to the novel.
As emotionally strong as "The Thread" was, it was by no means perfect. For one thing, a large chunk of the story was missing. The boy, Dimitri, is forced away from home for large periods due to the choices he makes and whilst he remains in the thoughts of those at home, the story rarely follows him. The small glimpses suggest that his life may be tougher, but no less emotional in its own way and by missing out these parts, it feels as if only half the story is being told. Admittedly, what was here was very good, but I always felt as if I was missing out large parts.
The other downside to the book was the pacing. At 455 pages, it's not a short novel, although thanks to the skill of the writer, it doesn't feel as long as it is. But even with this, the ending feels horribly rushed, as if the author has realised how much she's written and that something needs to end. Given that this premise of the book is that the story is being told to someone, their feelings about events are never fully expressed and the book ends with the story and the reaction the listener may have had to it is skimmed over, once again leaving me with the feeling that there was a potentially large sub-plot missing from the story.
Overall, despite these minor niggles, I did enjoy "The Thread". For the majority of the book, I was able to lose myself in the city of Thessaloniki and the lives of the characters here. The emotion running through the pages was strong enough to keep me reading and it was only occasionally I realised I was missing out on something. I wouldn't say I've found a new favourite author here, but this encourages me to pick up more of Hislop's work should I have the time. Indeed, the nature of the novel, following a mixture of wealthy and poorer characters over a time period of many decades reminds me of some of Sidney Sheldon's writing, an author I have enjoyed reading in the past.
For those fans of Hislop's work, or of Sheldon or similar, "The Thread" is well worth a look and can be found cheaply enough to make it well worth trying. It's part of both WHSmith's and Waterstone's "Buy One Get One Half Price" offers, which makes it potentially as little as £4.00 new if you can find something else you like. It's available on Amazon for £3.85 for a new copy and on the Marketplace from £2.00 or eBay from 99 pence, but postage needs to be added to these prices. It may also be available in a local library or charity shop for even less than this, which makes it incredible value for what is a decent emotional read, if not perfect. As much as I hate to say it, Richard and Judy were right on this one.