|The Sewing Machine / Natalie Fergie;|
read by Ruth Urquhart and Angus King
Rearsby, UK: WF Howes, c2017
It's one of those stories that moves back and forth from present to past; this time with three storylines. We start with Jean, who works at the Singer plant in 1911 Clydebank, right as a strike is fomenting. She marries one of the strike leaders so afterward they have to move to Edinburgh to make a new life.
Then there's Connie, whose mother keeps a record of everything she sews on her Featherweight, by stitching a line and a fabric scrap onto a page of a notebook, with information on what she's made. Connie finds these and continues the tradition. After a family tragedy, Connie gets a job as a seamstress at the local hospital, where she meets her husband, and a young nurse in need of assistance who becomes integral to the story.
And then we have Fred, in modern day Scotland. He's just lost his job as a banking consultant in London, and his beloved grandfather Alf (Connie's husband) has just died, leaving Fred his flat. So Fred moves back to Scotland and tries to make a life while also trying to find a job. He starts to clear out the flat and finds the old sewing machine, and somehow he takes to it and begins sewing small things for the boys next door, discovering a liking for this hobby. He also meets an artist who deconstructs old sewing machines to make her art works. I really liked this reversal of expectations, that it's Fred who takes up sewing, and it's a young woman who is the mechanic/artist. Fred, however, feels a lot younger/more immature than his stated age of mid30s, I'd have placed him mid20s at the oldest.
The story moves between these three situations, even back and forth in each storyline as well. As noted, I was listening to this so it had potential to become confusing -- however, I didn't find it was hard to follow. The only thing I had trouble with was trying to figure out how all three characters were connected; I thought one thing, then changed my mind as the story progressed, then saw it in the final chapters.
I did listen to it in two long sessions though, which probably helped keep things straight! I don't think this is one of those books that you can pick up and put down over and over without losing the thread.
I loved the setting and the historical content, and the narrator did a bang up job with it. I even looked her up afterward to see what else she's narrated! Fred is likeable though not as compelling to me as Jean and Connie -- their stories are so rich, and their connections to sewing are lovingly described. Anyone who has sewn anything at all will recognize some of their experiences and conversations, which added to the richness of the story for me. However, I think even if a reader didn't know anything much about sewing, the historical and family tree elements will grab them. The characters are interesting and many-sided, and their lives feel very situated in time; the details of everyday life are fascinating, and Scotland comes to life in the way this book is constructed.
I really enjoyed this book, both the storyline and the way it interweaves before finally revealing family secrets, and the great narration. Small things like Fred's neighbours or Connie's father's friends are also memorable, not just the main characters. For me, everything hung together and made a satisfyingly complex story, with just a few obvious coincidences that I forgave for the sake of plot. The sewing content is fabulous and with no mistakes to distract -- Fergie clearly knows her way around a sewing machine. Recommended for those who love family stories with heart, and a bit of history on the side, too.