Following the 1929 stock market crash in America, there was an unexpected boom in the jigsaw-puzzle industry. Companies began giving away puzzles to promote the sale of toothbrushes and other domestic items. Soon, someone had the bright idea of marketing a weekly puzzle. In the doom-ridden days of bankruptcy and unemployment, this diversion from anxiety and boredom was a runaway success. Would a similar idea alleviate the worries of the current financial crisis? As Margaret Drabble explains in The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws, ‘doing jigsaws and writing about them has been one of my strategies to defeat melancholy and avoid laments’.
Drabble has had good reason for low spirits. Shortly after she began work on this book, her husband, the biographer Michael Holroyd, was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo a series of invasive treatments. Confined to home, Drabble took refuge in the jigsaw puzzles laid out on