An Australian first-timer connects two women’s lives through the ancient art of knitting, in a brief, sweetly winning tale.
Since her husband’s death a year earlier, textile historian Sandra Fildes feels as if she’s wearing a layer of elastic glass “holding her in and keeping everybody else out.” She needs a new project, and when the loopy knitter Martha McKenzie suddenly comes into her life—they’re the only two who help a collapsed man in the street—she lights on Martha to fulfill her academic dreams. Martha has quit her drudgery as an exploited knitter for a famous sweater designer and instead finds work cleaning the church, all the while knitting patterns dear to her simply because she loves to knit. Martha is poor and cheerful and generous, while Sandra lives in a big stone house with a pool; Martha befriends the recovered collapsed man, Cliff, while Sandra thinks he’s seedy and a thief. But Sandra is amazed by Martha’s gift at knitting and sees her as a direct line to the ancient traditions of inventive women’s work, and even plans to stage an exhibition called “Texturality,” a social history of the century featuring historically patterned garments knitted by the one and only Martha. Martha, however, is a perfectionist and becomes psychologically unstable when pressured—like now, as Sandra becomes increasingly manipulative and controlling of her friend. Indeed, Sandra even recognizes that she treated her dead husband in much the same way she’s treating poor Martha. The story of the friendship between these two very different personalities is affecting, the snob Sandra continually foiled in her attempts to categorize Martha, who “[keeps] turning into something else” and who is indeed the more sympathetic character, with her otherness and “careless propensity for joy.” At the same time, though, Bartlett’s weaving in of women’s inventive traditions is rather heavy and academic.
Still, a spirited feminist take sure to find favor with women’s book groups.