The Paris Review

Re-Covered: Margaret Drabble’s 1977 Brexit Novel

Margaret Drabble is so well known that seeing her included in this column might confuse some readers. Writing in the New York Times only two years ago, when Drabble’s most recent novel, The Dark Flood Rises, was published, Cynthia Ozick described the then seventy-eight-year-old as “one of Britain’s most dazzling writers,” and the work in question—Drabble’s nineteenth novel—as “humane and masterly.” In her sort-of memoir, The Pattern in the Carpet, Drabble describes writing as a “chronic, incurable illness,” one she caught “by default when I was twenty-one”; her first novel, A Summer Bird-Cage, was published three years later when she was only twenty-four. And yet, though she herself is not forgotten, certain of her works have fallen out of print. Perhaps it’s inevitable that in a career as long as hers, some of what she’s written would, despite its brilliance, have slipped through the cracks.

—Drabble’s eighth novel, originally published in 1977—is one such example. Having spent much of this summer reading Drabble’s perceptive, elegantly written work, I can say with confidence that this one stands out from the rest. First, it marked the moment when Drabble turned her attention from the small-scale worlds of a protagonist’s individual struggle to what Patrick Parrinder described as her later, “settled, capacious, Condition-of-England chronicles, prolonged ruminations on the way we live now.”, however, there’s a shift in focus from the individual to the collective, and Drabble’s fiction takes on a strong sociological angle. in the fall of 1978, only a year after was published, she admits that “the whole idea” for it “came from reading newspapers.”

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