Anyone who knows me will realise that a book with the word ‘knitwear’ in the title was bound to pique my interest. But Chrissie Gittins’s book has so much more to recommend it than just its name.
The book is a memoir of Chrissie growing up, and then as an adult who has to deal with a period of her life when she lost both her parents. The ‘story’ is told across a series of short chapters, each discussing a certain tiny incident or exchange.
What makes the book so absorbing is the level of detail packed into each chapter. I’m sure, if asked, what you most remember about growing up or about your parents’ habits, you could come up with a hundred little memories – shouts, smells, snippets of conversation – just random things that have stayed with you. That’s what Gittins has done here. The chapters are packed with everyday detail but all are drawn so vividly and each one tells its own story about how difficult things were for her – to deal with her mother’s mental illness, to manage visiting her parents at the other end of the country when one slipped into dementia and the other just into frail old age.
My favourite was the chapter entitled ‘Piercings’ which told of a week’s holiday Chrissie took with her mum, to Wales. It describes the time leading up to the holiday, where her father has been taken into a home and her mother gets confused with the shopping. The time the two of them spend away is full of small memories – getting her mother’s ears pierced, going on train journeys – but it’s during this time that Chrissie can talk to her mother about more important things, things they’d not discussed before. “The ECT was very frightening.” “Did you mean to kill yourself?”
What this chapter highlights for me is that moment when you realise as an adult that your parents are adults too, and how your relationship subtly changes. Sure, they used to look after you and in so many cases you may well end up looking after them but there’s this other bit, where you’re both equals trying to get through life as best you can. For me, the rest of the book – its emotional punches, the mental struggles and the grief that Chrissie describes – all come from that moment where she has to paint as accurate a portrait of two people she loves, and doesn’t want to use a child’s lens to view them with.
I urge you to read this book. If you’re of a certain age, some things will ring as true for you as they did for me (reading Lady Macbeth’s speech out loud in class seems to have been a rite of passage), but there are universal observations for all of us – in how we treat ourselves and each other. While some of the subject matter covered in the book may sound bleak, the book itself is not, it’s an affectionate portrayal of good people and their love.
Between Here and Knitwear by Chrissie Gittins is available from Unthank Books priced at £10.00
*Disclaimer: I was sent a review copy of this by Unthank Books.