Friday 7 January 2011

What we keep

I have been knitting bags. I started one over Christmas that will actually be big enough to put stuff in but my DPNs (double pointed needles) are too small and I am waiting for a set of circular needles to arrive so I can continue with it. In the meantime I got out some yarn that I spun and dyed last year some time in an attempt to do some 'stash busting' (which really means using stuff you have had for ages so you can justify going out and buying some new yarn:-). So the multicoloured larger pouch is done in homespun with an i-cord drawstring and the tiny one (just for the hell of it) was done with some left over sock yarn (for scale the big one is about 7" deep, the tiny one about 3"). I have done another larger one the same with the plan to felt it in the washing machine; I haven't done any felted knitting since my first adventure into felting nearly two years ago. Plans for the jumper for Dunk are finally taking shape, the pattern and wool are selected, the needles are on order, all I need to do now is get to Purl City Yarns.

'What we keep' by Elizabeth Berg has come from the library, thanks to Dunk who went to retrieve it after I booked it out and then put it down on the knitting shelf and forgot it. It was another one of those books where I ended up wanting to know the point of view of a different character.

The book is told by a middle aged Ginny, as she takes a plane journey to meet the mother she has not seen in 35 years, and during the flight she reminisces about the events when she was twelve that led to their estrangement. It is one hot summer in the lives of two ordinary sisters and how their apparently secure and predictable lives are disrupted forever by the arrival of Jasmine, the new and bewitching neighbour. The focus of the story is the close relationship between Ginny and her older sister Sharla, their mother is just this person in the background of their lives, the organiser, the breakfast maker, the conscientious shopper. There are moments when Ginny seems to understand that her mother has thoughts and feelings of her own but most of the time they both live in their own little world.

Anyway, stuff happens, and their mother ups and leaves the family and the girls reactions are angry and unforgiving. The father pulls himself back together quite quickly and remarries, someone who seems to be a clone of the woman who left him, perfect housewife and then caring stepmom, and the girls accept her because she restores the 'normality' they had lost. Their mother returns to live locally and tries to reestablish contact with her daughters, but they unaccountably reject her, are cold and uncomfortable around her, something they admit they can't readily explain themselves. Time passes and basically the mother admits defeat and withdraws from the girls' lives. Ginny recognises that her ongoing anger at her mother is based on her childhood resentment but it is only her sister's threatened illness that forces her to confront her loss. It all ended far too neatly and easily for my liking, lots of crying and everyone talking it out like sensible grown-ups.

It is a story about the mother/daughter relationship, really about how one sided it is. Also a bit of a period piece; set in the 1950s, the role that the mother has is very confined and socially dictated, and therefore the children's expectations (and the husband's of course) of their mother as being a 'constant' in their lives is what is destroyed by her departure. I was left feeling that I wanted to know what the mother was thinking, and why she behaved they way she did. I felt annoyed by the girls and by the general attitude of the time that adults did not discuss anything important with their children, that you had to protect them from the difficult bit of life, especially when that involves their parents relationship. It was a nice read but nothing special. I guess maybe it touched a chord with me a little, because when you are divorced you do spend sleepless nights mulling over the effect your choices have had on your children's lives, blaming yourself for every little unhappiness they might have suffered, wondering endlessly if they harbour resentment against you, whether they blame you for what happened ... very easy to tie yourself in knots .. so lets not go there.

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