Threads: The Delicate Life of John Craske by Julia Blackburn

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Threads: The Delicate Life of John Craske by Julia Blackburn

Category: Biography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A look at the life of artist John Craske. If you're looking for a straight biography this probably isn't the book for you but if you're happy to meander through the process of researching a book and to allow your thoughts to be provoked you're in for a treat.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: August 2017
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0099582199

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John Craske was a fisherman, from a family of fishermen, who became too ill to go to sea. He was born in Sheringham on the north Norfolk coast in 1881 and would eventually die in the Norwich hospital in 1943 after a life which could have been defined by ill health. There were various explanations for what ailed him, what caused him to sink into a stupour, sometimes for years at a time and he was on occasions described as 'an imbecile'. But John had a natural artistic talent, albeit that his work had to be done on the available surfaces in his home. Chair seats, window sills, the backs of doors all carried his wonderful pictures of the sea. Then he moved on to embroidery, producing wonderful pictures of the Norfolk coast - and, most famously, of the evacuation at Dunkirk.

He was looked after by his wife and neither had commercial sense: they looked to survive rather than thrive and were embarrassed by the money that they received for Craske's work, but his artistry gained a wider public. He was much admired by John Betjeman and Peter Pears and his fame spread beyond the British Isles. The memory of him has faded though, and Julia Blackburn set out to write his biography.

If you're looking for a straight biography of a man who was destined for one career, but became something else because of ill health then you might find this book something of a disappointment, for Blackburn says quite openly that she found it difficult to get to grips with the man, to grasp the centre of his life. But the very elusiveness of Craske and Blackburn's search for him becomes a story in itself and this naturally leads on to autobiographical details of her own life. For those who want a straight biography this can be infuriating (I'll confess to being annoyed on several occasions when Blackburn stated that she'd forgotten something: it seems that I could only take so much of the rather dreamy atmosphere which surfaced on occasions) but if you're happy to allow yourself to go with the flow of two stories - that of the Craskes and Blackburn's own life - then you can be in for a treat.

There are some splendid images in the book: I probably spent as much time gazing at them, studying the embroideries carefully, admiring the paintings, as I did reading the text. I don't think that I've ever encountered another artist with Craske's ability to capture the way that a boat sits on the sea and he could do this with paint or thread. Have a look at the print you'll see here.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Before reading Threads I'd never heard of John Craske, but I was tempted by the memory of Thin Paths: Journeys in and Around an Italian Mountain Village, the story of how the relationship between her and Herman, the man who would become her husband developed. You will get more from Threads if you've read that book first.

Buy Threads: The Delicate Life of John Craske by Julia Blackburn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Threads: The Delicate Life of John Craske by Julia Blackburn at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Threads: The Delicate Life of John Craske by Julia Blackburn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Threads: The Delicate Life of John Craske by Julia Blackburn at Amazon.com.


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