A Rich Tapestry

By Dunn, Daisy | The Spectator, October 29, 2011 | Go to article overview

A Rich Tapestry


Dunn, Daisy, The Spectator


The Thread

by Victoria Hislop

Headline, £18.99, pp. 390,

ISBN 9780755377732

Oh what a tangled web she weaves! Victoria Hislop's third novel, the appropriately titled The Thread, is pleasingly complex. The story traces several generations of a fictional Greek family called Komninos against the historical backdrop of the rise and fall of Greece's second city, Thessaloniki, in the 20th century. To make things even knottier, most of the characters have some connection to the textile industry, and while for some this is booming, for others it remains a labour of love.

The most fascinating element of the book develops out of the history of Thessaloniki itself. Historically, the city has an impressive heritage at stake. Tracing her foundation back to the family of Alexander the Great, she became, to the Byzantine empire, a jewel second only to Constantinople.

The catastrophic fire of 1917, which razed much of the city, is a turning point in Hislop's story. After witnessing the destruction of their grand sea-view villa, the Komninos family is forced to take up residence in a poorer quarter - a melting pot of Christians, Muslims and Jews. The loss of much the city's architecture is juxtaposed with a sequence of meetings and scenarios that will reverberate across future generations of this family - a likable bunch, except for Konstantinos, the monstrous father.

Hislop emerges as something of a Homeric Penelope figure, concerned to show how a thread is untied as much as tied. This helps to free The Thread from the 'beach-read' status of Hislop's first two novels, The Island and The Return, also set on Hellenic shores. The second world war begins to make its impact on the city, and Dimitri Komninos, a strongwilled and abstemious fellow determined to preserve his homeland from impending destruction, decides to join the Communist ELAS. His father, a successful textile magnate with a penchant for prostitutes, dinner at eight, and fascist politics, takes umbrage, and the destructive potential of preserving a heritage comes ever more to the fore as Dimitri, an only child, seeks to salvage his relationship with his country and its people, but most of all his reclusive mannequin of a mother and her housekeeper Pavlina. …

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