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A Personal History with Jigsaws

by Margaret Drabble

Pub Date: Sept. 16th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-547-24144-9
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

An accomplished voice of the British literary world recalls the puzzles that intrigued her in her youth and continue to do so in her maturity.

Novelist Drabble (The Sea Lady, 2006, etc.)—who has also edited two editions of The Oxford Companion to English Literature—notes that the best way to attack a jigsaw puzzle is to start at the frame. So she begins with the memory of beloved Auntie Phyl and the village life enjoyed by the author and her family—a pastoral prewar world of tea cozies, morris dancing and biscuit-tin art. Never kitsch, it’s pop culture that will be especially attractive to anglophiles. Drabble’s rambling discourse in time—“This book started off as a small history of the jigsaw, but it has spiralled off in other directions, and now I’m not sure what it is”—becomes gently illuminating. Starting with a history of jigsaws (notably, didactic “dissected maps”) and the story of board games, beginning with the Candyland-like “Royal Game of Goose,” the author creates an evocative study in memory and the techniques used to reconstruct it. She eventually ranges through Roman architecture, juvenile literature, mosaics, needlework and the curiosities and crafts of the 18th century. Drabble considers some of her favorite things and curious activities used to ward off melancholy. What starts as a garrulous elder’s memoir evolves into an astute miscellany that occasionally wanders but is never lost.

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