Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan

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Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: Dark, powerful, and at times a difficult read, Needlework explores adult subjects with deftness and subtlety. A good and moving read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: February 2016
Publisher: Little Island
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1910411506

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I would like to make things beautiful, but a tawdry and repulsive kind of beauty. A braver sort than people have from birth. Sexy zombies on a bicep. That sort of thing.

Ces longs to be a tattoo artist and embroider skin with beautiful images. But she has enough to contend with in her life, and surviving her teens long enough to make it as a tattoo artist, may be enough of a struggle. Needlework is a girl struggling to maintain her bodily and spiritual integrity in the face of abuse, violation, and neglect.

I was initially drawn to this book by the cover – a beautifully simple image by artist Steve McArthy. Whilst not initially noticeable, due to the fact that I'm normally mostly covered in tweed jackets and large jumpers, I am absolutely covered in tattoos, courtesy of an addiction that began when I was 17 years old. I have them to mark special occasions, films I love, things I've been through, art I love etc., and imagine I'll get many more as the years go by – there comes a point when it feels a bit too late to stop.

Here, we meet Ces – fascinated by tattoos and tattoo art, she dreams of flesh, art and needles to escape the pain of her situation – neglected and abused, and constantly cold, hungry, and poor. Tattoos here become almost a metaphor for self-harm, and are talked about in a way I'd never thought of them before – angry, constant, scars.

This is not an easy read – it's incredibly dark, and whilst Ces is a companionable enough narrator for the reader, some moments are hard to read, and the bleakness can feel a bit too much at times. But, I think that's why this book works so well – the bleakness is terrible but completely compelling, and one feels that they must keep reading in order to make sure that Ces will make it out of the book okay. The few brief rays of light that appear throughout the book are joyous, and by the end I was left hopeful, if somewhat crushed by Ces's life, and the realisation that, terribly, her life isn't unique – many children are left in positions as awful as hers.

Not only a great read, this is an important one – any teen in a similar situation may get some support from this, and other teens may well gain empathy and awareness. Not just teens – I'd recommend to a wider range of readers. Difficult issues are dealt with in a sympathetic and understanding manner, and the writing has a lightness of touch that handles the hard themes in a manner that makes them readable and extremely well conveyed. Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.

For further reading, I heartily recommend The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan – another novel that deals with difficult themes in a graceful and careful manner, captivating the reader and guiding them through the difficult waters. You might also appreciate The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney.

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Buy Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan at


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