The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws by Margaret Drabble

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The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws by Margaret Drabble

Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: If you are one of those people who think that nostalgia isn't what it used to be, this is the perfect book for you. This is a genre-defying mixture of memoir, personal reflection and history of jigsaws and children's games that only works because of the beautiful writing of Margaret Drabble that makes this a charming, quixotic, thoughtful and delightful book.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Atlantic Books
ISBN: 978-1843546207

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Imagine the scene: a major publishing house receives the latest pitch for a book. Its basis is a history of the jigsaw, interwoven with a highly personal memoir of an ever so slightly irascible maiden aunt with whom the author partook in the delights of puzzling. Two words save this pitch from oblivion: Margaret Drabble. Faced with the same dilemma in a bookshop, the reader would be wise to follow the publisher's hunch and buy this book - it is a gentle delight from start to finish.

In her foreword to the book, Drabble explains that having decided that her 2006 novel The Sea Lady would be her last fiction book, her intention was to explore the idea of producing a small, specialist book on the history of jigsaws which she envisaged sitting on the shelves of many a museum and gallery bookstore, and hopefully providing the ideal stocking filler type book for enthusiastic puzzlers. But at some point in the process, the book morphed into much more than that. Most overtly, it became a hybrid of this history and a memoir of her Auntie Phyl, a former school teacher with whom Drabble shared happy hours of jigsaw puzzling. But in the process, something deeper emerged.

It's well known that Drabble has suffered from periods of depression and that her recollections of her family and childhood are not all together happy (which she partly addressed in her novel The Peppered Moth) and her strained relationship with her sister, A S Byatt has been well recorded. But in The Pattern in the Carpet she focusses more on the happiness in the time with her Aunt as well as some wider thoughts of her own life, and exploring some of these images of a rural idyl of her youth without seeming to rake over old coals. The result is curiously uplifting and very personal.

It would be possible to criticise this book for not being one thing or the other. As a memoir, it is only partial, and as a history of jigsaws it is obviously deeply researched, but hardly an academic treatise on the subject due to the chatty style. Drabble goes off on little tangents and incorporates wider issues of games, mosaics, miniature art, children's fiction - I'm desperately trying not to liken it to a puzzler's 'attention to different aspects before returning to the whole' as the jigsaw metaphor in this context seems lazy to me, but that's what it's like. Incidentally, she also explores the use of the jigsaw metaphor too!

On jigsaws, what makes this so charming is that Drabble comes across as an enthusiastic fan rather than a fanatical enthusiast. She explores the mention of jigsaws in literature and portrayal in art as well as the development of the jigsaw from 'dissected maps' to images of art. Curiously though, she doesn't explore the issues of mass production of puzzles. She references an impressive range of literature, art and research material, but it's never dry, and never preachy - albeit that if you are looking for a pure memoir, there's a LOT on jigsaws in it. Former teacher, Auntie Phyl would doubtless have admired her efforts at imparting learning.

For good measure, there are joyous snippets, like the derivation of the phrase Goody Two-Shoes. And there can be few books on the history of any subject that gives quite so much kudos to a London taxi driver named Kevin.

It's a gentle book, recalling the charms of earlier days. It will appeal to puzzlers and non-puzzlers alike (I fall into the second category but am now wondering what I have missed all these years). Incidentally, it would make an ideal gift for Mother's Day, and why not throw in a jigsaw with your gift too?

Many thanks to the good folk at Atlantic Books for inviting The Bookbag to review this delightful book.

Margaret Drabble's sister, Susan, better known to you and me as A S Byatt, also explored childhood issues, albeit in fictional form, in her Booker-nominated The Children's Book that is also well worth reading. For younger readers, as if to demonstrate Drabble's point about jigsaws as literary metaphor, why not try Jigsaw by Garry Kilworth - who knows, readers may one day grow up to appreciate the joys of puzzling for themselves.

Buy The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws by Margaret Drabble at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws by Margaret Drabble at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws by Margaret Drabble at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws by Margaret Drabble at Amazon.com.


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