I picked this up for $3.50 in an odd little shop in the middle of nowhere much because it was about a writer and a knitter – both things I like to do. It looked like a pleasant piece of fluff. And it is. This 2006 quick little read might best be described as a “cosy”; there’s nothing particularly challenging, nor is the anything particularly thought provoking. It’s like a scone – you know what you’re getting and sometimes it’s just the ticket. Of course, not all scones turn out well, they lack the lightness to be truly great. In this novel the characters are well enough drawn, there is some tension between them, each has a conflict, there’s a bit of a problem to overcome though it’s not exactly life and death, but the author has slipped a stitch or two in the plot department.
The story circles around two women – Sandra, a bereaved academic who is locked in grief and unable to let her rigid emotions flow, and Martha, an ‘eccentric’ woman of indeterminate age who is emotionally labile, but also locked in the past in her own way. They meet accidentally when the itinerant Cliff passes out in the street and no-one but them stops to help. Sandra is interested in the history of textiles and Martha is a top-gun knitter (can there be a ‘top-gun’ knitter? Yes, I think so). Sandra conceives of an exhibition featuring Martha’s fabulous knitting, interwoven with her own textualized history of women’s work and knitting. What Sandra doesn’t understand, because she is too self-absorbed and emotionally numb, is the effect of the heavy work schedule on the emotionally unstable Martha.
That’s all fine and good. But … the conflict isn’t conflicted enough, and the crises isn’t critical enough and Martha’s recovery from mental illness via kidney infection is unbelievable. It could have worked if there were some dark night of the soul explorations,but no, she just wakes up with the light in her eyes. Then, just to wrap everything in a pink ribbon, Sandra suddenly sees the light and realises she better mend her ways if she wants to be the nice person she thinks she is.
The writing shines brightest when Bartlett writes about knitting – she clearly loves it, knows it, does it, but the story is a lot like the church group set within it – Nice, with the capital ‘N’ firmly in place.