The Pattern in the Carpet by Margaret Drabble

I began reading The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History With Jigsaws in December and finished it this morning. It took me a long time not because it’s difficult reading (it isn’t) but because I only read short sections each day – I often read non-fiction like that.


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 it was what it was once meant to be. It is a hybrid. … This book started off as small history of the jigsaw, but it has spiralled off in other directions and now I am not sure what it is.

It is not the book she meant to write and it is not the book I expected to read. I enjoyed parts of immensely – those parts about her childhood, and life at Bryn, her grandparents’ house in Long Bennington and about her beloved Aunt Phyl (Phyllis Boor) and of course those parts about jigsaws, both personal and historical, about mosaics (looking at them as a form of jigsaw), the history of children’s games and puzzles and amusements. She does ‘spiral off in other directions’ which meant in parts it lacks a clear structure in a sort of ‘stream of conciousness’ style, particularly in her reminiscences and nostalgia about life (reproduced in some jigsaws) in a rural community that no longer exists.

I noted down a few points she made about jigsaws:

  • jigsaws renew the brain cells – that’s good! (page 66)
  • putting away a finished jigsaw can be a sad moment – I agree and usually leave mine for a while before dismantling them. These days I take a photo. (page 94)
  • because they have no verbal content they exercise a different part of the brain, bringing different neurons and dendrites into play. (that’s good too) (page 122)
  • some people disapprove of jigsaws, some of knitting, of card games and other activities and artistic traits. (page 187)
  • jigsaws maybe connected with depression and used as time-killers, filling empty days and evenings (page 242)
  • people can be addicted to jigsaws (page 244)
  • doing a jigsaw is like creating order out of chaos (page 245)
  • jigsaws reproducing works of art helps you learn about art (pages 250-1)
  • jigsaws as metaphors  and simile are everywhere eg wikipedia etc (page 267)

And, of course, reading this book has made me get out a jigsaw to do. This is a Thomas Kinkade jigsaw: Sunday Evening Sleigh Ride (1,000 pieces).

Sleigh Ride P1010859

I don’t think I’m a jigsaw addict, in the same way as I am a book addict, after all I do just a few jigsaws now and then, whereas reading is a constant and I feel lost if I don’t have a book on the go. And you may have noticed (from the side bar) that I am not currently reading a book! Time to find the next one to read …

7 thoughts on “The Pattern in the Carpet by Margaret Drabble

  1. I do jigsaws on my iPad because I can prop it up in front of me. Leaning over to do the original sort annoys my back too much these days. However, I’m not enamoured enough by them to read a whole book on the subject. I would be interested though to read about Drabble’s childhood. Does she mention her sister? I have often wondered what the source of the animosity between them was.


    1. Alex, I’ve done jigsaws on the iPad too, bending over a jigsaw gets my back too. I used to sit/kneel on the floor but that’s more difficult these days.

      Margaret Drabble mentions her sister – ‘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.’

      She added that in writing her novel ‘The Peppered Moth’ which is in part about genetic inheritance, she had excluded any mention of her two sisters and brother, and she had decided that she would not write about family matters again. This posed difficulties in writing The Pattern in the Carpet because she could not truthfully present herself as an only child and had to fall back on a communal childhood ‘we’, which referred to her older sister Susan and her younger sister Helen. Her brother Richard is considerably younger than her and his memories of Aunt Phyl are of a later period. There may be more references, but there is no index to the book and I don’t remember much more about the sisters’ relationships.


      1. But if A S Byatt had written about the teaset would she not have appropriated it too? It seems a very small thing to get worked up about – presumably symptomatic of a much deeper and bigger problem.


  2. What an interesting perspective for a book, Margaret! And sometimes those more unusual non-fiction stories can be the most engrossing. I’m glad you enjoyed it.


  3. Very interesting! We usually do lots of jigsaws in the winter, 15 or More! But with moving this winter I haven’t got to do a single one yet! Hoping to get one in anyway I like your puzzle mat.


  4. PS. Leaning over the table is tough on the back. I got those big black things for putting under your bed or other furniture to lift it up higher and put them under my dining room table legs and voilà no bending over. Looks alittle weird but who cares!


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