The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws

The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws

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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, the jigsaws they completed. She offers penetrating sketches of her parents, her siblings, and her children; she shares her thoughts on the importance of childhood play, on art and writing, 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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  • Format: Paperback

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547386096

  • ISBN-10: 0547386095

  • Pages: 368

  • Price: $19.99

  • Publication Date: 09/10/2010

  • Carton Quantity: 24

Margaret Drabble

Margaret Drabble

MARGARET DRABBLE is the author of The Sea Lady, The Seven Sisters, The Peppered Moth, and The Needle's Eye, among other novels. For her contributions to contemporary English literature, she was made a Dame of the British Empire in 2008.
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  • excerpts


    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

    didn’t 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 didn’t 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

    couldn’t 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 Michael’s 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 aunt’s 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 children’s 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 don’t 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 mu...

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: Paperback

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547386096

  • ISBN-10: 0547386095

  • Pages: 368

  • Price: $19.99

  • Publication Date: 09/10/2010

  • Carton Quantity: 24

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