> Skip to content
About the book
  • Published: 2 August 2018
  • ISBN: 9781473524002
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 224

Red Thread

On Mazes and Labyrinths




An ingeniously constructed, labyrinthine journey through myth, art, literature, history, archaeology and memoir, by the Baillie Gifford-shortlisted author

'Charlotte Higgins's Red Thread is a masterwork' - Ali Smith
**BBC RADIO 4 BOOK OF THE WEEK**
**WINNER OF THE 2019 ARNOLD BENNETT PRIZE**

The tale of how the hero Theseus killed the Minotaur, finding his way out of the labyrinth using Ariadne’s ball of red thread, is one of the most intriguing, suggestive and persistent of all myths, and the labyrinth – the beautiful, confounding and terrifying building created for the half-man, half-bull monster – is one of the foundational symbols of human ingenuity and artistry.

Charlotte Higgins, author of the Baillie Gifford-shortlisted Under Another Sky, tracks the origins of the story of the labyrinth in the poems of Homer, Catullus, Virgil and Ovid, and with them builds an ingenious edifice of her own. She follows the idea of the labyrinth through the Cretan excavations of Sir Arthur Evans, the mysterious turf labyrinths of Northern Europe, the church labyrinths of medieval French cathedrals and the hedge mazes of Renaissance gardens. Along the way, she traces the labyrinthine ideas of writers from Dante and Borges to George Eliot and Conan Doyle, and of artists from Titian and Velázquez to Picasso and Eva Hesse.

Her intricately constructed narrative asks what it is to be lost, what it is to find one’s way, and what it is to travel the confusing and circuitous path of a lived life. Red Thread is, above all, a winding and unpredictable route through the byways of the author’s imagination – one that leads the reader on a strange and intriguing journey, full of unexpected connections and surprising pleasures.

  • Pub date: 2 August 2018
  • ISBN: 9781473524002
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 224

About the Author

Charlotte Higgins

Charlotte Higgins's previous books include the acclaimed Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain, which was shortlisted for awards including the Samuel Johnson (now Baillie Gifford) Prize for non-fiction. She is chief culture writer of the Guardian, a past winner of the Classical Association prize, and a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. She lives in London.

Also by Charlotte Higgins

See all

Praise for Red Thread

“Any bookshelf would be graced by the presence of [Red Thread]… [it] ask[s] readers to surrender to the unpredictable pleasures of getting lost… playful and gorgeously written.”

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Guardian

“Charlotte Higgins's Red Thread is a masterwork, an open-eyed analysis of the everyday mazery we face without even realising it, and an understanding of psychic and narrative architecture that's a pretty crucial piece of equipment for wherever and whenever we find ourselves lost. I read it on the balcony of a hotel in Rome... and it was as if the city itself opened playfully and thoughtfully around the reading experience in its amalgam of pasts and presents, histories and mysteries.”

Ali Smith

“A serious, substantial, scholarly and yet also highly personal book about mazes… Red Thread is a book to admire as much as to enjoy.”

Ian Sansom, Spectator

“[Charlotte Higgins] is no ordinary author. Her thrillingly original book – it really is like no other – is itself a sort of maze of facts and thoughts, ancient tales and modern phenomena… on every page there is a sparkling idea or a fascinating piece of information. It is also beautifully written… a beautifully produced volume, full of colour illustrations of sculptures and paintings and tantalising maps of mazes.”

Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday

“In this beautifully produced and richly illustrated book… Charlotte Higgins takes us on a fascinating meander through the art and literature of the last 2,500 years… After reading this book you will see labyrinths everywhere.”

Michael O’Loughlin, Irish Times

“The joy of travelling with Higgins… [is that Red Thread] delights in the blinking movement from one subject to the next. In a few pages, we travel from Middlemarch to Ovid, from Arachne to Velázquez and his painting The Spinners and then back to George Eliot. It sounds dizzying; in truth it is illuminating.”

Christian Donlan, New Statesman

“This is a book to get gloriously lost in… It’s a lovely, wayward meander, combining memoir with surprising historical facts, unexpected connections and intriguing, imaginative speculations.”

Psychologies *Book of the Month*

“Higgins’ range is admirably, enviably broad… there is no shortage of visual pleasure in Red Thread.”

Tim Smith-Laing, Daily Telegraph

“Charlotte Higgins’ Red Thread is subtitled “On Mazes And Labyrinths” but is much more than that. It takes a nimble thinker to link the ancient stories of the Minotaur to archeological fabrication in the Edwardian era and to Arnold Bennett and the Potteries... [one] of the most interesting books this year.”

Stuart Kelly, Scotsman, *Books of the Year*

“Fascinating… enriching… very satisfying.”

Jonathan McAloon, Financial Times

“Red Thread is no ordinary piece of cultural criticism. It is certainly a learned journey through the role and history of mazes in art and reality. But it is also a deeply personal exploration of the role of the labyrinth in Higgins's own life… [Higgins] leads us all the way to the monster at the centre of the maze.”

Natalie Haynes, Observer

“I adored this twisty-turny, illustrated history of labyrinths... A book to lose yourself in.”

Caroline Sanderson, Bookseller *Editor's Choice*

“This erudite and elegantly written book transcends its esoteric subject matter: what begins as an art historical investigation develops into a thoughtful meditation on the nature of intellectual inquiry, and a celebration of human curiosity.”

Houman Barekat, Prospect

“Fascinating… Higgins is a brilliant and scholarly writer.”

Laura Beatty, Oldie

“A new book from journalist Charlotte Higgins is the [Radio 4] Book of the Week, treading a path through the winding topic of mazes and labyrinths.”

Charlotte Runcie, Daily Telegraph

“The material is wonderfully rich, and the author I excellent at marshalling it into a series of vignettes to conjure the shape of a labyrinth.”

Daisy Dunn, Literary Review

“[A] beautifully crafted book.”

Dee Lalljee, Western Morning News

“Higgins’ darting, spooling path connects myth with faith, art with literature, landscape with architecture, anecdote with interpretation… its images and schematic diagrams of labyrinths adding a visual dimension to a book already rich in thought and observation.”

Ariane Bankes, The Tablet

“Richly erudite and compellingly personal.”

Louisa Buck, Art Newspaper

“A rich cultural history of mazes and labyrinths… Beautifully designed and precisely structured, it’s also a personal book about childhood memories, dreams and feeling at times lost in life.”

Guardian, *Summer Reads of 2019*


Related titles