Summary and book reviews of The Pattern in the Carpet by Margaret Drabble

The Pattern in the Carpet

A Personal History with Jigsaws

By Margaret Drabble

The Pattern in the Carpet
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2009,
    368 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2010,
    368 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

Foreword

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 ...

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Introduction

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 ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

To read The Pattern in the Carpet is to witness the wide-ranging power of a keen and curious mind. By her own admission "not a tidy writer," Margaret Drabble's "personal history with jigsaws" is a memoir for readers who are willing to stray from the path and possibly never return. It's about jigsaws, certainly, but also about history, philosophy, cartography, literature, poetry, obsession, depression, and the delight of the digression. If you like your timelines linear, your themes clearly laid out, and your narrator a reliable tourguide with a checklist, you'll likely run screaming after the first chapter. But if you're willing to surrender to her charms, you'll find that Drabble is an irresistibly eccentric guide with a rigorous curiosity and wicked wit.   (Reviewed by Lucia Silva).

Full Review Members Only (879 words).

Media Reviews
The Guardian (UK)

Are these bits and bobs a proper way back to the past, or are they simply packaged commodities which you might today buy on eBay? In mounting a gentle but firm interrogation into such matters, The Pattern in the Carpet turns out to be full not so much of last things as late things - a mature overview of a lifetime spent fitting objects together in various ways before breaking them up and beginning all over again.

The Spectator (UK)

The Pattern in the Carpet charts the history of games, such as the Royal Game of the Goose, as amusements for the aristocracy throughout 16th-century Europe.

The Daily Telegraph (UK)

Everything about this book gives the impression that it was indeed costly to write, that the act of making it was a way of conjuring steadiness from a chaotic passage of life. Yet its beautifully written pages are filled both with an astonishing amount of quixotic information and with a paradoxical sense of delight: with the apprehension that playfulness is the best defence (for those without religious faith) against despair.

The Independent (UK)

Drabble declares at one point that she will produce no more novels. Aged 70 this June, she now seems more interested in telling things as she experiences them at the moment. This level of honesty makes this book sometimes uncomfortable but always immensely readable.

The Times (UK)

Leftover pieces in a jigsaw are nothing but an irritant. Similarly, an ideal book would probably have no jagged and uneven edges to mar it. The Pattern in the Carpet has plenty, and it’s often difficult to pick out any original design amid its apparent chaos of anecdote and discursive detail. However, discursiveness has its own delights, and the extra pieces Drabble has added to the jigsaw tend only to increase the charm of this idiosyncratic and offbeat book.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Readers unafraid of doing some extra work will be richly rewarded.

Kirkus Reviews

A dab hand at fiction and editorship comes through once more, this time with a chockablock memoir fitted under the rubric of pastimes.

The New York Times

Drabble’s book does have force and gravity...[but] one feels there’s a larger, more profound book poking through this one at odd moments.

The Los Angeles Times

Drabble's mini-project wavers between the meticulously detailed and the desultory, broken up by all manner of feverish digressions.

The Boston Globe

Depending on your taste and patience, reading through the resulting hodge-podge will be fascinating, tedious, or both.

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Beyond the Book

Margaret Drabble
Margaret Drabble was born in 1939 in Sheffield, England. Her father was a barrister, county court judge and a novelist. Her sister is the author A.S. Byatt. Margaret attended the Mount School in York from where she won a scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge to read English. She received a Starred First (First Class Honours with Distinction - which is rarely awarded). After graduating from Cambridge she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford where she understudied for Vanessa Redgrave.

She is the author of over 25 works of fiction, nonfiction, and biography. You may view a detailed bibliography here.

She married the actor Clive Swift (perhaps best known for his role as husband to Hyacinth Bucket ...

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