Margaret Drabble’s book is subtitled A PERSONAL HISTORY WITH JIGSAWS. It is partly a history of jigsaws (a little too much of this for me) and partly a memoir, focusing on her Aunt Phyl with whom she shared a love of jigsaws. Aunt Phyl was a key person in Drabble’s childhood. Drabble remarks that it was almost impossible to please her mother, but almost impossible not to please Aunt Phyl. A primary school teacher and single, she liked playing with children and was pretty much the perfect aunt. We get sidelight too onto Drabble’s parents, her difficult, depressive mother, and gentle Quaker father. At one point she wonders what he would have thought of Hugh Kingsmill’s words about the Kingdom of Heaven which ‘canot be created by charters and constitutions nor established by arms. Those who set out for it alone will reach it together, and those who seek it in company will perish by themselves.’ This fascinating thought makes me what to find out more about Kingsmill, who was the first subject of biographer Michael Holroyd (Drabble’s husband).
I ended this book liking Drabble for her modesty and honesty. And wondering if I should take up jigsaws, which she suggests is an excellent pastime for writers. It switches the brain onto the visual track and gives the verbal part a rest. Gazing out of train windows and going to exhibitions also fulfill that function for me.