I’ll admit I bought my copy of this book in part because of its delightful cover which caught my eye and then on reading two wonderful reviews of this book by Portobello Book Blog and The Quiet Knitter which easily convinced me that I needed to find out the tale of the Singer factory strike which was held in Clydebank, Glasgow in 1911.
I love historical fiction especially that which vividly shows the changes in our lives, particularly women’s lives, over the last century or so and The Sewing Machine squarely hits this brief. In 1911 Ten thousand workers went on strike, eighteen year old Jean being one of them. Jean’s story is one of split loyalties, between her family and her sweetheart and the consequences of the decisions made at this time in her narrative which spans decades.
In 1954 Connie has a Singer Sewing machine, bought in the early days of her marriage and unpredictability of life are beautifully captured in her own narrative and the details of those items she makes on her Singer, each item having a scrap of fabric and a few details entered into a notebook, these excerpts really hitting the mantra that less is sometimes so much more!
The most recent narrative is written by Fred In 2016 who is tasked with clearing his Grandfather’s flat which includes not one but two sewing machines. Fred is a man of this age, he blogs about his life, the big decisions he is forced to make and his memories of his grandparents. I’m not going to lie, I was surprised that we had a male perspective a book which shrieks ‘women’s interest’, one of the many successful and enjoyable departures from the formula often employed by writers in this genre.
In any historical novel the characters are key and each of those who feature are distinct and realistic. Some of the stories told are those that we may well be familiar but given life through the eyes of Natalie Fergie’s creations. My own grandmother had a Singer sewing machine and I used to play with a doll of my mother’s when I visited her house – new clothes were made for her using the flamboyant scraps of material of the 80s to give her a change from those more stylish and refined items she possessed from the 50s. This passing down of her needlework skills from generation to generation is one which was an automatic rite of passage and this feeling of links in a changing world was one of the many delightful aspects of The Sewing Machine with even some of the technicalities of the machine itself being so wonderfully woven through the story one that proved to both entertaining and informative at the same time.
As with any story in this genre there are coincidences but the wealth of historical detail that spans the years this book is brilliant, especially as the choices clearly made to relate in one way or another back to the good old sewing machine, that these are soon accepted as an absolutely possible truth. The Sewing Machine is cleverly constructed with many different threads which are entwined to produce an outstanding read which took this reader through the full range of emotions with each of the perfectly drawn key narrators.
This is one of those books that even though I turned the last page a while back, is still resonating now and I expect it will for some time to come yet. A stunning debut novel that vividly captures both time and place wherever and whenever that happens to be.