When describing this book to my husband, I summarized as the story of two women in Victorian England: Ruth, a seamstress who believes she can hurt and kill others through her sewing, and Dorothea, a member of the gentry who visits Ruth in prison, believing that phrenology (the study of the contours of the human skull to describe a person's personality) holds the clues to Ruth's innocence or guilt. It sounds a bit wacky, I'll admit, but the story is so much more complex than that. The question of whether or not Ruth truly can kill others by infusing her creations with her own hatred will have readers guessing throughout the book trying to figure it all out, right up until the final page.
Ruth, a member of the lower class, grows up a victim of poverty, and without money, her only way to survive is through her sewing. Out of necessity, she enters an "apprenticeship" in a local dress shop, Metyards, only to discover that nothing is what it seems and that her mistress, Mrs. Metyard, is insane. Dorothea meets Ruth after Ruth has been imprisoned for murder, and begrudgingly, Ruth tells Dorothea her story. The horrors of Ruth's story reveal to Dorothea some secrets within her own, seemingly perfect, family life.
Purcell excels in writing atmospheric horror that is almost suffocating. The issues faced by the heroines are always intersectional- race, sex, and class are all woven into what haunts both women. The Poison Thread is a punch of a novel, and it's a story that is sure to stay on reader's minds long after they've finished.