The Pattern in the Carpet

Margaret Drabble's The Pattern in the Carpet is one of those strange unclassifiable books that give marketing departments a headache. Part memoir, part history, part reflection, it's been subtitled A Personal History with Jigsaws, which is as good a summary as any.

Margaret Drabble was possibly my first adult author crush; I read The Millstone at about fourteen and recognised myself in the character of Rosamund, solitary and almost pathologically independent, scholarly and paranoid about causing any kind of inconvenience to others (Rosamund, as I did too eventually, breaks out of this diffidence when she has to defend her baby). I've read most, but not all of Drabble's novels over the past few decades. I was vaguely irritated by The Pure Gold Baby, which I found meandering and unsatisfying.

The Pattern in the Carpet was also meandering, but perhaps because it wasn't a novel, this time I found its detours charming rather than annoying. Drabble reminisces about her childhood, about the satisfactions of jigsaws and puzzles and their history (beginning with 'dissected maps' as an educational tool and gradually becoming purely pleasurable time-wasters). Many authors are apparently addicted to jigsaws, finding their purely visual meditation an effective antidote to wrestling with words. I have found this myself (though lately I've taken up piano and knitting as similar non-verbal occupations).

This memoir is itself built up from interlocking pieces, jumping from the origins of children's books to the appeal of twee rural nostalgia to the sad biography of Alison Uttley to conversations with London taxi drivers to Roman mosaics to the incredible flower collages of Mary Delany, in short, entertaining chapters.

I was very sad to learn that Drabble's daughter Becky , who is mentioned several times in the text, died of cancer earlier this year. This added an extra layer of poignancy to the text. The Pattern in the Carpet is not quite the slim stocking-filler that Drabble initially envisaged, but it was a diverting and intriguing journey.

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