Top positive review
155 people found this helpful
painful but beautiful
on 16 September 2007
The knitting blogs have been listing books with a knitting theme, and I've read a few. Generally they're pleasant little reads, sometimes with a pattern or two printed in the back, and I expected something like that when I picked up The Knitting Circle. Clearly I had not done my homework: this book by Ann Hood is richly textured and beautiful, if emotionally wrenching to read.
Hood lost her own young daughter to a sudden infectious illness. In this book she writes a compelling story of Mary Baxter's grief and recovery after the death of her five-year-old daughter Stella from bacterial meningitis. Mary is immobilized by her loss, and learns to knit through the long-distance machinations of her mother. The rhythm and predictability of knitting gradually begin to give her a focus; one stitch after another, one row after another, until a fabric is created. Time passes and something is achieved.
Mary soon learns that each of the other knitters meeting weekly at Alice's "Sit and Knit" has a tragic story. From lost wartime lover to brutal assault to recurring cancer to loved ones lost on 9/11, each knitter's story unfolds in turn. Their stories are linked through the knitting circle and Mary's slow, slow progress through her grief. Mary's relationship with her husband and her mother suffer from her lack of engagement, as well as her relationships at work. Gradually, like the fabric of knits and purls, Mary begins to be whole again.
Through most of this book there was a feeling of not much actually happening, but an intensity of feeling being expressed as the back-stories unfold; a darker, more introspective Decameron. Beautiful to read, painful but beautiful. Gradually the separate strands become more closely intertwined and in the last part of the book, by comparison, the action becomes more pronounced. This transition is a good fit if the reader sees it as a parallel to the stages of Mary's grief; though it could be seen as many loose ends being tied up in a rush.
You may read books more smoothly constructed and edited, or with more thorough development of the secondary characters. You may read memoirs that make your heart break over the death of a child -- the classic Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther, for example, or April Fool's Day by Bryce Courtenay. But if you are looking for a book tagged as a novel that rings painfully true, that takes you from deepest grief to the tendrils of healing and renewal, then this is the book for you. Knitting is optional, but you WILL want a box of tissues.