Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The dark flood rises, by Margaret Drabble

Francesca Stubbs is in her early seventies, still vital but beginning to see the end of the road looming.  Her new job, working for a non-profit which strives to improve the housing and the lives of aging people, and her personal life, which finds her bringing meals to her ex-husband, dying of cancer; her childhood friend, ditto; and coping with her son Christopher’s girlfriend’s untimely death, only serve to reinforce this increasingly grim vision of the future.  The fact that when the novel opens it is February in Britain isn’t making life any more cheerful.  However, even in the warmer clime of the Canary Islands, Sir Bennett and his younger partner, Ivor, are also facing end-of-life thoughts in their retirement.   Christopher’s girlfriend had been stricken on one of the islands while they were filming a documentary about the plight of immigrants making a perilous and sometimes fatal boat journey there from North Africa.  The relatively small world of British academics and intelligentsia bring all these lives together through connections forged over the decades.  I’ve, so to speak, grown up with Margaret Drabble, although she’s a few steps ahead of me (maybe) -- from her first novel, published in 1963, dealing with post-college angst (A summer birdcage), to this darker point in her life.  The dark flood is variously the approach of death; the rising waters (climate change?) in the marshland where Fran’s odd daughter, Poppet. lives; the seismic instability below the sunny Canaries; and the influx of desperate immigrants from Africa, and more recently, the Middle East, into Europe.  Not as depressing as it sounds, but probably a bit of a slog for someone of a sunnier and younger disposition. 325 pp.

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