The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws

by Margaret Drabble

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.

  • Format: eBook
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780547391540
  • ISBN-10: 0547391544
  • Pages: 368
  • Publication Date: 09/16/2009
About the Book
About the Author
  • About the Book

    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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  • About the Author
  • 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...

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