Anne Bartlett
Penguin Books

To read Knitting is to be caught up in a weaving of words as cloud-soft as angora, as shimmering as silk, as tingling as mohair.

After her husband’s death, Sandra finds herself in a skin-tight prison of glass, unable to grieve. Reminded of her own desperation during her husband’s last illness by the fleeting look of a woman kneeling over an unconscious body on the street, she is drawn into the lives of Martha and Cliff.

Martha is rosedown warmth to Sandra’s brittleglass cold. A gifted knitter, she inspires Sandra to invite her to collaborate in a textile exhibition. But Martha’s generosity and her fragile hold on sanity, coupled with the escalating scale of Sandra’s ambition, begin the unravelling of their blossoming friendship.

Knitting threads together themes of friendship, grief and grace—at least so the cover tells me. True, the resolution of Martha’s obsession with carrying around every mistake she ever made is beautiful. Yet the most exquisite theme of all is folded in with it. The symbol of the rose subtly runs through Knitting until it suddenly unfolds to be revealed as the major theme: the roseheart dress Martha is secretly knitting, the roses she scatters at the Easter service and the fire of roses she sees in hospital as she teeters on the edge of death. Signifying healing and purity, forgiveness and new beginning, the rose is the design at the heart of Knitting. The fire of roses harks back to the nineteenth century and George MacDonald’s eerily similar imagery in the children’s fantasy,The Princess and Curdie. This exquisite motif is one of my favourite symbols in all literature. Sure I’m biased but nonetheless Bartlett does bring the metaphor into the twenty-first century without losing any of its otherworldly numinosity:

And then she saw the cleaner at the foot of the bed. … As he came closer she could smell his fire; it was hot and sweet and roses somehow, ashes of roses. … This was it, then. This was the end. With a huge sigh of relief she gave herself up to whatever was coming next. He leaned over her. She felt the incandescence crackle into her hair, face, body, her dry hands fluttering on the sheet like autumn leaves. Breathe it in, breathe it in, breathe it in. Fire to consume everything. With his kiss, the whole room exploded into flames.



  1. Fire of Roses | Fire of Roses - [...] George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin or the purging fire in Anne Bartlett’s Knitting, I am utterly entranced…

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