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The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws (2009)

by Margaret Drabble

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2321186,691 (3.42)36
The author offers an innovative mix of memoir, jigsaw-puzzle history, and the strange delights of puzzling, with sketches of her family members and her thoughts on the importance of childhood play, art, and writing.



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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
This is a rambly part-memoir, part-jigsaw-informational, part-game-history mess of a book. She acknowledges this near the end of the book:

"I have strayed far from my plan, which was to write a brief illustrated history of the jigsaw puzzle. I find myself with a bucket full of leftover tesserae, some with jagged and uneven edges encrusted with old mastic and resin, which do not fit into my original design."

But gracious - the territory she covers!. I lost count of all the authors she's read (complete with their excerpts) who mentioned anything about jigsaws (or other games), all the visits she's made to museums, libraries, the art, tapestries, movies... If there was any kind of minutiae to be found about puzzles or games, she found a place to put it in this book.

I didn't love it, but I finished it, which is more than I can say for the only one of her sister's books that I started and abandoned forever. ( )
  countrylife | May 22, 2015 |
Margaret Drabble gives us the history of jigsaw puzzles in a meandering manner with lots of detours along the way. In her research (which was extensive) she found that jigsaw puzzles started out as educational toys- maps cut into countries or counties, teaching geography as they are put together. Later, picture puzzles were used as a free gift with purchase. They became immensely popular, triggering the creation of picture puzzles as things to be sold. The author relates them to the history of games in general (there have always been games), and, at the suggestion of a cab driver, to mosaics.

Drabble was introduced to jigsaw puzzles as a child by her spinster aunt Phyll, and so this memoir talks a good bit about her, and Drabble’s relationship with her- a relationship more loving –or at least friendlier-than what existed in Drabble’s own home, where the children were always being told to shut up and be quiet. It was a lifelong relationship; Drabble continued to visit her aunt until Phyll’s death in a senior home. She has also continued working jigsaw puzzles as a means of relaxation.

This is neither autobiography, family history, nor strict history of puzzles. It’s not in chronological order. It’s like sitting down with a very erudite friend and having a chat-quite possibly over one of those jigsaw puzzles- and bouncing back and forth between subjects as one does in conversation. It was a pleasant book to read, and it was very interesting to hear one of my favorite author’s personal voice as opposed to her fiction writing voice. Reading about how her research branched and led her down rabbit holes made me laugh- I know how that happens. And I found it reassuring that someone as educated and smart as herself still wastes time doing puzzles- it makes me feel less guilty about it! ( )
2 vote lauriebrown54 | May 11, 2015 |
This book is not quite what I expected from the description at the bookseller. While I expected some memoir to be interwoven, there was far more memoir than there was about jigsaw puzzles. My favorite portions of the book were those that dealt with the jigsaw puzzle's history, with the art work from which jigsaws are often taken, from the maps that were the earliest jigsaws, and from the depiction of the jigsaw puzzle in literature, particularly in the mystery genre. The memoir part focused on working jigsaws with her Aunt Phyl and then somehow trying to make the jigsaw a metaphor for her life. That particular aspect just didn't work. It tended to ramble a bit too much. Chapters, for the most part, were very short, lending to an overall choppiness in the narrative. I could tell the author was well-versed in literature, and there is a reference to her work on The Oxford Companion to English Literature in the narrative.

While I am still uncertain of why Drabble included this particular memory, I'm glad she did. As a native of Mississippi, I have seen the state depicted negatively in so much literature and non-fiction. One of Drabble's favorite tour moments occurred in my home state: "Once, years ago, on a lecture tour of Mississippi and Alabama, I was put up for a night or two in a motel just outside Hattiesburg near the University of Southern Mississippi. It was on one of those American strips, lined on both sides by gas stations and Tex-Mex diners and Baskin Robbins and small superstores. As I remember it, the motel had a wooden veranda on which were lined up some wooden rocking chairs. Sitting on one of these chairs, rocking myself gently and watching the polluting traffic pass noisily by, I was at peace. It is a surprisingly pleasant memory. I think the motel reminded me of Bryn. It is one of the best recollections I have of all those book tours and lecture tours, where time was divided between frenzied anxiety at airports and imprisoned restlessness in hotel rooms waiting for the next interview. Sitting in the slipstream, rocking, watching the world go by." ( )
1 vote thornton37814 | May 9, 2015 |
Ugh. If not for bookclub I never would have perserverd through this rambling mess. Going off ona tanget is one thing but she could stay on any one thought for more than a paragrah and then would randomly return to it time and time again with no particular reason. That and little barbs at famous novelist sister and Mommy issues and it was all too much for me.
1 vote amyem58 | Mar 10, 2015 |
I received this book as a gift, along with three jigsaw puzzles. I was immediately drawn into it and had trouble putting it down. I loved the way Drabble lets one train of thought lead to another, making connections between various methods of putting things together to form patterns. She manages to tie these various things back to her own childhood influences. Her research was amazing and I now have dozens of books to dig into. She managed to touch on so many of my own interests that it was uncanny. I'm sure that the many somewhat obscure references that I "got" might just bore others who wouldn't recognize them. I loved it so much that I immediately ordered another copy to give to a jigsaw loving, Anglophile friend.
1 vote herzogm | Oct 4, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
“The Pattern in the Carpet” is a discursive, loosely organized mix of Drabble’s memories — some but not all of them having to do with solving puzzles — and her accounts of her own research into the history of jigsaws and other games.
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As she went to bed that night, she said that she wished we had been able to finish the jigsaw. 'It's a pity,' she said, as she gave up. 'It's a pity.' It was the last evening of the last summer.
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The author offers an innovative mix of memoir, jigsaw-puzzle history, and the strange delights of puzzling, with sketches of her family members and her thoughts on the importance of childhood play, art, and writing.

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