How does a mother cope with the loss of her child? The Knitting Circle, by Ann Hood, is a poignant story about tragedy, kindness and friendship.
The story opens in September a few months after the death of Mary’s five year old daughter, Stella. Stella became ill with meningitis and died suddenly from a virulent strain of meningitis. Stella was the centre of Mary’s life. Now Mary’s life is falling apart. She feels paralysed and spends her days in a daze. Mary struggles even to get up out of her bed. Mary has a job writing reviews of books, restaurants and movies for a local newspaper in Providence, Rhode Island. But she seems to have lost the ability to write. She isn’t able to do simple daily chores like cooking or shopping. Everything she does reminds her of Stella and these thoughts are just too painful.
Sadly, Mary’s grief is separating her from the people who care about her most. Her marriage to Dylan seems to be falling apart as the two of them drift further away from each other. Dylan copes with the loss of Stella by throwing himself into his work and he cannot understand Mary’s reaction. Mary ignores phone calls from her co workers and from her mother, Mamie.
Mary has a difficult relationship with her mother, who lives in Mexico. As well is being geographically remote, Mamie is also emotionally distant. Nevertheless, Mamie persistently pesters Mary to learn to knit, as Mamie has found comfort in knitting for many years.
Despite her reservations (she has never learnt how to knit) Mary eventually agrees to take the plunge and joins a knitting circle that is an hour from her home. The circle is run by Big Alice who is a motherly yet diminutive Englishwoman. Alice welcomes Mary with complete openness and sets her off with a ball of yarn, a pair of knitting needles and easy instructions for knitting a scarf.
The Sit and Knit Knitting circle meets very Wednesday at Alice’s Yarn Shop and includes a diverse yet enigmatic group of women (and a few men). At first Mary struggles to fit into the group and feels that knitting is beyond her limited capabilities. However, as she listens to the caring conversations between the women, she soon finds that she has settled in. As she focuses on knitting each of the little stitches she feels a kind of therapeutic effect. She finds calmness in the technique and a comfort amongst the group as she learns first how to make a scarf and then moves on to hats, socks and even a sweater.
Mary gets to know the women in the circle and she finds that each has her own story of suffering or bereavement. One by one they tell Mary their personal stories of loss, grief and regret. But their stories also include some love and hope for the future. Despite her initial reluctance to join, Mary soon realises that this strong group of women have brought her back from the brink. It is now up to her to decide whether she wants to repair her damaged relationships with her husband, her mother and her work colleagues.
This novel was written by Ann Hood after she lost her daughter from a virulent form of strep throat. Clearly the author speaks directly through Mary and I admire the courage that it must have taken to put her deepest feelings down on paper.
This book is inspirational and I couldn’t help but be moved by the stories of the characters. It is a book that I didn’t want to put down. It is a deeply moving and emotional read a positive message of renewal.
The knitting is much more than just a device in this story – it is an integral part of the plotline. The cultivating of women’s friendship groups is an attractive proposition that works in any knitting tale. I relate to the comforting and meditative effect that knitting provides. It distracts your mind into the process of concentrating on each individual stitch and the movement of the knitting needles. However, the knitting sections should not distract from the overall narrative.
The characters are easy to relate to, through their struggles with life issues and the choices that face them. I felt so deeply moved for Mary as she was reminded in little ways throughout the story of what Stella said or wanted or how she smelt, felt or behaved. It is a touching tale told with warmth and intimacy.
The concept of having so many of the characters with difficult experiences in their past may seem farfetched. However, many people will have experienced a tragedy of sorts by the time they are the age of the characters in the book. Loss is a brave subject to cover in a novel and the author tackles the subject of loss head on. But it is the quality of the writing that I admire most in this book. Through her descriptions and prose she pulls you into the heartfelt struggle which is the centre of the story. It is sincere and at times intense and unbearable. But it is also a book that takes the reader through the process of mourning one step and one breath at a time.
The Knitting Circle, by Ann Hood, is a well paced novel. The story takes place over many months and has an enjoyable flow which is never hurried. It has a powerful message in the power of friendship; the help from a stranger and the fellowship of a group of knitters. If you can manage a book that will make you shed tears I would thoroughly recommend it to you.
Some of the yarn in the photos featured in this The Knitting Circle book review are available in the Knitting Squirrel shop here although all of those photographed are from my personal stash! I was knitting the sock using Opal Beachcombing colour Message in a Bottle. I read this book on Kindle.