Debbie Rix likes to write about unforgotten women in history. She’s a storyteller who uses her talent and craft to tell the stories of those that other people have glossed over or missed out. In her latest novel The Silk Weaver’s Wife she links the modern rebirth of the Italian silk industry to its 18th-century glories, via the lives and loves of two women, Anastasia and Millie. Two women who live three hundred years apart.
In eighteenth century Venice we meet Anastasia, desperate to escape her controlling father and utterly enraptured with her childhood sweetheart. An elopement doesn’t go to plan, and she finds herself trapped as the wife of a silk weaver to whom her father betrothed her at an early age. Female friendships are her savior, as well as the painting she finds on the wall. It’s this same painting that Millie discovers in 2017. Seeking solace after the end of an affair, she embarks on a feature writing trip to Italy. Here she falls in love with villa owner Lorenzo, and discovers the story of the silk weavers. That story, and the one of a woman in a portrait.
The two stories are interspersed throughout, each enhancing the other, subtly. At times we’re introduced to a third strand, following the fate of Anastasia’s mother and her younger sister Marietta, left behind and trying to find a way to rescue their loved one. Easy to read, the two stories weave together beautifully, becoming more immersed in one another as the novel progresses.
Like her previous books, The Girl with Emerald Eyes (2015) and Daughters of the Silk Road (2016) it mixes fiction with fact, introducing the reader to the silk industry and its history. It’s clear that Debbie is not only passionate about your subject, but a newsgatherer and journalist at heart. The novel is densely packed with historic detail that reveals the social and political character of the time, but Rix ensures that it is her characters who drive the plot. As a journalist inquisitive about the house she is staying in Millie acts as an excellent device for this, but the love story that unfolds ensures that she is far more than just a plot aid. Rix captures the essence of both periods through her rich images and descriptions of both the landscapes and places and the customs and personal lives of her characters.
You can hear more about Debbie’s process here, in this interview at Margate Bookie.