Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Radiant Ways of Margaret Drabble

Today is the birthday of Margaret Drabble--how I have loved Margaret Drabble!

I first read her slim book, The Millstone, in a grad school course on the modern British novel.  Most of the books in that course seemed modern, in comparison to the Victorian Literature which also consumed me, but also curiously not modern.  The Millstone was no exception.

The book has a narrator who's deeply conflicted about sex:  modern or not modern or post-modern?  She decides to have a child out of wedlock, which shocks her sister:  modern or not modern or post-modern?   She tries not to tell many people about her pregnancy, so that she can keep plowing through grad school studies and doing what she considers to be important work in the field of literary criticism:  modern or not modern or post-modern?

The language seems rooted in the early 1960's, but the issues weren't unfamiliar to us back in the late 80's, when we took the class.  Some of them seemed just as daunting, if not more so:  work/family/lifestyle choices still stymie so many of us.

I liked Drabble's writing, so when I saw a copy of The Radiant Way at the remainders table in a mall bookstore, I bought it.  What a revelation!  It continues to be one of my favorite books.  It depicts the 80's in a realistic way that still takes my breath away.  Yet, Drabble is also doing fun things with figurative language.  And what a great trio of characters.  This book continues Drabble's exploration of the issues that both delight and bedevil modern women.

I don't always love her more recent novels, although I did love The Sea Lady.  Perhaps it's because her later novels explore what it means to be a woman growing older in our society, and those issues terrify me--and her books don't always offer comfort.  Most of us will not escape the ravages of age, no matter how much money we have.  Even if we travel through the landscape relatively unscathed, the ones we love or the ones to whom we have obligations, will not be so lucky.

The other day I wandered through the public library and found myself saying, "There's nothing here that I want to read."  Maybe it's time to return to my own library.  I've bought books for just this day.  Maybe it's time to return to The Radiant Way--and then the sequels!

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