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The Radiant Way

New or Used: 4 copies from $9.03
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About the Author

Margaret Drabble was born in Sheffield in 1939 and educated at Cambridge. She was awarded a CBE in 1980. Her many novels include The Radiant Way (1987), A Natural Curiosity (1989), The Gales of Victory (1991), The Peppered Moth (2000); The Seven Sisters (2002) and The Red Queen (2004) all of which are published by Penguin. Margaret Drabble is married to the biographer Michael Holroyd and lives in London W10.


One cannot read Drabble (The Ice Age) without being aware of the culture in which she writes; her novels are as much social and political commentary as they are acute character studies. This latest work gives us another grim picture of Britain in the '80s, a country still preoccupied with class divisions, increasingly torn by labor strife, being sucked into the chaos of random violence. The ironic title comes from a children's reading primer, which pictures a world proceeding in rational, peaceful, cooperative fashion; it is also the title of a TV documentary made by Charles Headleand, the husband of one of the three protagonists, all of whom met at Cambridge in the '50s. Liz Headleand is a Harley Street psychotherapist and mother of a large family; Alix Bowen teaches ``the poor, the dull and the subnormal'' in government sponsored programs; Esther Breuer is an art scholar who has pared her life to minimal terms. Among them these women experience divorce, the death of a parent and of a lover, the loss of a job and a resulting sense of dislocation, an intimation of vulnerability as a ghastly murder affects their lives. In the course of the five-year span of the novel, each comes to terms with her own nature, and with her future. As exemplars of female roles in modern culture and as reflectors of the forces fragmenting British society, Drabble's characters sometimes sound like spokespersons for her pessimistic philosophy, and there are sections of the novel where pure exposition weakens the narrative tension. On the whole, however, this is one of the best of Drabble's books, immersing the reader in a credible, relevant world. (October 2)

Drabble's major new novel, her first in seven years, charts the fortunes of three women who meet at Cambridge in the 1950s. Liz becomes a successful psychotherapist, Alix a teacher of literature in a women's prison, and Esther an art historian specializing in the Italian Renaissance. Their stories unfold against the sweep of post-war England, a period of decline, disillusionment, and radical social change. As the novel progresses, we delve more deeply into each woman's past, discovering how their lives intersect and how their relatively privileged status contrasts with that of people living on the fringe: a disturbed young girl, even a serial murderer. The title itself (taken from a childhood reading primer) becomes an ironic commentary on lost ideals. A long, satisfying book, full of characters, full of talking, full of ideas. Laurence Hull, Cannon Memorial Lib., Concord, N.C.

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