The Book of the Needle

Written by Matthew Francis

England and Wales in the early-to-mid 17th century. Arise (or Rhys) Evans tells his story, in an ostensible memoir and a book on the art of tailoring that he unsuccessfully tries to hide from his insatiably curious wife. Arise, who is an historical figure, grows up on a wool farm in Wales in the early years of the 17th century. But when his father dies and unaccountably omits him from his will, he is apprenticed to a tailor, where he learns a trade. But Arise has other talents too; he is a bookish, intelligent and articulate youth, who moves to London to continue his trade independently. Arise has some acute religious experiences where he believes he is spoken to by God which propels him towards prophecy (he sees the country’s collapse into civil war, for example) and his eloquence and commitment bring him to the attention of some of the leading men in the land, including Charles I and Oliver Cromwell, both of whom are interested to learn of his visions and prophecies. He spends three years in jail for his seditious behaviour and language, and publishes numerous books on his spiritual visions.

The tale is narrated in an impressive approximation of contemporary language and idiom, immersed in the 17th century intellectual milieu. Arise Evans tells his story in a non-linear narrative: it jumps around in various scenes from his oft-turbulent past to the present, while having to cope with a forceful, independent wife and a challenging, disputatious son. It is an enjoyable, engaging, and amusing read.