Drabble’s Progress

John Sutherland

  • The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble
    Viking, 464 pp, £14.99, October 1991, ISBN 0 670 84270 2
  • Happily Ever After by Jenny Diski
    Hamish Hamilton, 245 pp, £14.99, September 1991, ISBN 0 241 13169 3
  • Of Love and Asthma by Ferdinand Mount
    Heinemann, 321 pp, £13.99, September 1991, ISBN 0 434 47993 4

Some readers do not much like Margaret Drabble’s later novels because they are so different from her earlier successes. She may have lost one public and not as yet entirely won over another. Her novel writing career began brilliantly and precociously with A Summer Bird-Cage (1963), published when she was 24. Since then, the preoccupations of her novels have generally kept pace with what one assumes to have been her personal progress from Cambridge graduate, through marriages, pregnancies, growing children, marital complications, and high professional achievement, to what in 1980 – her 40th year – she memorably called ‘The Middle Ground’. The novel of that title – her ninth – marks a reflective moment in Drabble’s evolution. Between The Middle Ground and her next work of fiction there was a seven-year pause (partly taken up with her immersion in the revised Oxford Companion to English Literature). The Radiant Way (1987) inaugurated a trilogy which continued with A Natural Curiosity (1989) and is now concluded with The Gates of Ivory.

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