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    The Powell's Playlist | February 27, 2015

    Kazuo Ishiguro: IMG Kazuo Ishiguro's Playlist for The Buried Giant

    The eight songs on this playlist didn't "inspire" The Buried Giant, nor did I play them out loud while writing. And with the notable exception of... Continue »
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This title in other editions

The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws


The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws Cover





This book is not a memoir, although parts of it may look like

a memoir. Nor is it a history of the jigsaw puzzle, although

that is what it was once meant to be. It is a hybrid. I have always

been more interested in content than in form, and I have never

been a tidy writer. My short stories would sprawl into novels, and

one of my novels spread into a trilogy. This book started off as a

small history of the jigsaw, but it has spiralled off in other directions,

and now I am not sure what it is.

     I first thought of writing about jigsaws in the autumn of ????,

when my young friend Danny Hahn asked me to nominate an

icon for a website. This government-sponsored project was collecting

English icons to compose a ‘Portrait of England, at a time

when Englishness was the subject of much discussion. At random

I chose the jigsaw, and if you click on ‘Drabble and ‘jigsaw and

‘icon you can find what I said. I knew little about jigsaws at this

point, but soon discovered that they were indeed an English invention

as well as a peculiarly English pastime. I then conceived the

idea of writing a longer article on the subject, perhaps even a short

book. This, I thought, would keep me busy for a while.

     I had recently finished a novel, which I intended to be my last,

in which I believed myself to have achieved a state of calm and

equilibrium. I was pleased with The Sea Lady and at peace with the

world. It had been well understood by those whose judgement I

most value, and I had said what I wanted to say. I liked the idea of

writing something that would take me away from fiction into a

primary world of facts and pictures, and I envisaged a brightly

coloured illustrated book, glinting temptingly from the shelves of

gallery and museum shops amongst the greetings cards, mugs and

calendars portraying images from Van Gogh and Monet. It would

make a pleasing Christmas present, packed with gems of esoteric

information that I would gather, magpie-like, from libraries and

toy museums and conversations with strangers. I would become

a jigsaw expert. It would fill my time pleasantly, inoffensively. I

didnt think anyone had done it before. I would write a harmless

little book that, unlike two of my later novels, would not upset or

annoy anybody.

     It didnt work out like that.

     Not long after I conceived of this project, my husband Michael

Holroyd was diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer and we

entered a regime of radiotherapy and chemotherapy all too familiar

to many of our age. He endured two major operations of

hitherto unimagined horror, and our way of life changed. He dealt

with this with his usual appearance of detachment and stoicism,

but as the months went by I felt myself sinking deep into the paranoia

and depression from which I thought I had at last, with the

help of the sea lady, emerged. I was at the mercy of ill thoughts.

     Some of my usual resources for outwitting them, such as taking

long solitary walks in the country, were not easily available. I

couldnt concentrate much on reading, and television bored me,

though DVDs, rented from a film club recommended by my sister

Helen, were a help. We were more or less housebound, as we were

told to avoid public places because Michaels immune system was

weak, and I was afraid of poisoning him, for he was restricted to an

unlikely diet consisting largely of white fish, white bread and

mashed potato. I have always been a nervous cook, unduly conscious

of dietary prohibitions and the plain dislikes of others, and the

responsibility of providing food for someone in such a delicate

state was a torment.

     The jigsaw project came to my rescue. I bought myself a black

lacquer table for my study, where I could pass a painless hour or

two, assembling little pieces of cardboard into a preordained

pattern, and thus regain an illusion of control. But as I sat there, in

the large, dark, high-ceilinged London room, in the pool of lamplight,

I found my thoughts returning to the evenings I used to

spend with my aunt when I was a child. Then I started to think of

her old age, and the jigsaws we did together when she was in her

eighties. Conscious of my own ageing, I began to wonder whether

I might weave these memories into a book, as I explored the

nature of childhood.

     This was dangerous terrain, and I should have been more wary

about entering it, but my resistance was low. I told myself that there

was nothing dangerous in my relationship with my aunt, and that

my thoughts about her could offend nobody, but this was stupid of

me. Any small thing may cause offence. My sister Susan, more

widely known as the writer A. S. Byatt, said in an interview somewhere

that she was distressed when she found that I had written

(many decades ago) about a particular teaset that our family

possessed, because she had always wanted to use it herself. She felt

I had appropriated something that was not mine. And if a teapot

may offend, so may an aunt or a jigsaw. Writers are territorial, and

they resent intruders.

    I fictionalized my family background in a novel titled The

Peppered Moth, which is in part about genetic inheritance. I scrupulously

excluded any mention of my two sisters and my brother, and

I suspect that, wisely, none of them read it, but I was made

conscious of having trespassed. This made me very unhappy. I

vowed then that I would not write about family matters again (a

constraint which, for a writer of my age, constitutes a considerable

loss) but as I sat at my dark table I began to think I could legitimately

embark on a more limited project that would include

memories of my aunts house. These are on the whole happy

memories, much happier than the material that became The

Peppered Moth. I wanted to rescue them. Thinking about them

cheered me up and recovered time past.

     But my new plan posed difficulties. I could not truthfully

present myself as an only child (as some writers of memoirs have

misleadingly done) and I have had to fall back on a communal

childhood ‘we, which in the following text usually refers to my

older sister Susan and my younger sister Helen. My brother

Richard is considerably younger than me, and his childhood

memories of my aunt are of a later period, although he did spend

many holidays with her.

     This book became my occupational therapy, and helped to pass

the anxious months. I enjoyed reading about card games, board

games and childrens books, and all the ways in which human

beings have ingeniously staved off boredom and death and despised

one another for doing so. I enjoyed thinking about the nature of

childhood and the history of education and play. For an hour or

two a day, making a small discovery or an unexpected connection,

I could escape from myself into a better place.

     I dont mean in these pages to claim a special relationship with

my aunt. My father once said to me, teasingly, ‘Are you such a

dutiful niece and daughter because you married into a Jewish family?

And I think that the Swifts may have played a part in my

relationship with Auntie Phyl. I was captivated by the family of

my first husband, Clive Swift. He was the first member of his

generation to marry out, but despite this I was made welcome. I

loved the Swifts strong sense of mutual support and their demonstrative,

affectionate generosity. They were a powerful antidote to

the predominantly dour and depressive Yorkshire Drabbles and

Staffordshire Bloors. It was a happy day that introduced me to

Clive and the Swifts.

     In The Peppered Moth I wrote brutally about my mothers

depression, and I never wish to enter that terrain again. It is too

near, too ready to engulf me as it engulfed her. Some readers have

written to me, taking me to task for being hard on my mother,

but more have written to thank me for expressing their complex

feelings about their own mothers. I had hoped that writing about

her would make me feel better about her. But it didnt. It made me

feel worse.

     Both my parents were depressive, though they dealt with this in

different ways. My father took to gardening and walking with his

dog, my mother to Radio 4 and long laments. He was largely

silent, though Helen reminds me that he used to hum a lot. My

mother could not stop talking. Her telephone calls, during which

she complained about him bitterly for hour after hour, seemed

never-ending. The last decades of their marriage were not happy,

but when they were on speaking terms they would do the Times

crossword together.

     Doing jigsaws and writing about them has been one of my

strategies to defeat melancholy and avoid laments. Boswell

regretted that his friend Samuel Johnson did not play draughts after

leaving college, ‘for it would have afforded him an innocent soothing

relief from the melancholy which distressed him so often.

Jigsaws have offered me and many others an innocent soothing

relief, and this is where this book began and where it ends.

     Margaret Drabble

Product Details

A Personal History with Jigsaws
Drabble, Margaret
Fernandez, Jose Francisco
Mariner Books
Drabble, Margaret
Jigsaw puzzles -- History.
Personal Memoirs
Biography - General
Stories (single author)
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Grade Level:
yes, details t/k
8 x 5 in 0.7 lb

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Related Subjects

Biography » General
Biography » Women
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Hobbies, Crafts, and Leisure » Games » General Puzzles

The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$4.95 In Stock
Product details 368 pages Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) - English 9780547241449 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Part memoir, part rigorously researched historical perspective, Drabble's book is a multi-layered look at jigsaw puzzles and their role through the ages for society, individuals, and herself; it's also a charming homage to Drabble's beloved Auntie Phyl, who passed her lifelong love of jigsaws on to Drabble. Alongside memories that appear 'in bright colours and clear blocks, like the large pieces of a child's wooden jigsaw,' Drabble takes a survey of games in literature and art, including Brueghel's 1560 'Children's Games,' a complex illustration featuring more than 90 games; and spends much time considering their psychological importance. Readers will probably be surprised, as Drabble was, to learn that jigsaws were originally connected to education rather than amusement; since then, the idea has become one of the 'quasi-educational apologia for the doing of jigsaws,' the idea that 'you learn about the brush strokes of Van Gogh, the clouds of Constable,' etc., from puzzling them together. (Indeed, 'Doing jigsaws stimulates bizarre theories of art history.') While fascinating, Drabble's highly intellectual, highly British study will pose a special challenge for American audiences. Readers unafraid of doing some extra work will be richly rewarded." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Synopsis" by ,
A collection of the famed UK novelist Margaret Drabble's complete short stories.
"Synopsis" by ,
A beautifully written and deeply personal book, a mix of memoir, jigsaw history, and the strange delights of puzzling.
"Synopsis" by ,

Margaret Drabble’s novels have illuminated the past fifty years, especially the changing lives of women, like no others. Yet her short fiction, never before collected, has its own unique brilliance. Her penetrating evocations of character and place, her wide-ranging curiosity, her sense of irony, all are on display here in stories that explore marriage, female friendships, the English tourist abroad, love affairs with houses, peace demonstrations, gin and tonics, cultural TV programs—stories that are perceptive, sharp, and funny. An introduction by the scholar José Fernández ably places the stories in the context of Drabble’s life and her novels. This collection is a wonderful recapitulation of a masterly career.

"Synopsis" by ,

The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws is an original and brilliant work. Margaret Drabble weaves her own story into a history of games, in particular jigsaws, which have offered her and many others relief from melancholy and depression. Alongside curious facts and discoveries about jigsaw puzzles—did you know that the 1929 stock market crash was followed by a boom in puzzle sales?—Drabble introduces us to her beloved Auntie Phyl, and describes childhood visits to the house in Long Bennington on the Great North Road, their first trip to London together, the books they read, and the jigsaws they completed. She offers penetrating sketches of her parents, siblings, and children, and shares her thoughts on the importance of childhood play, on art and writing, and on aging and memory. And she does so with her customary intelligence, energy, and wit. This is a memoir like no other.
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