Red Wheelbarrow Book Reviews
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The Sea Ladyby Margaret Drabble
Penguin UK Edition, 10,50€
I have always liked Margaret Drabble’s work. She has a way of bringing you into the time and place that is so perfectly right on. You are wherever she wishes to place you or, in this case, you travel the decades of the fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties in a way that allows me at least, to review each period with perfect recognition.
The Sea Lady explores the lives of three main characters from their early childhood well into their sixties. Ailsa is the sea lady who appears on the first page dressed for seduction and power, she is on her way to the North Sea, place of a childhood summer where she will meet Humphrey who had been her playmate when they were both young children building sandcastles and looking for the mysteries of the sea, just this side of the Scottish border, in England.
The site has become the home of one of Britain’s new universities where Ailsa, now a television star and otherwise noted intellectual and social celebrity will receive an honorary degree. Her one-time childhood companion Humphfrey, who is a distinguished marine biologist well-respected in academic and scholarly circles, a serious and honestly moral man, will give the invited talk.
The third character is more troublesome: he is the voice from outside, the Greek chorus, the man who knows what is what and who will do what. He is the Orator and I am not friendly with him, but there you are. He is part of the construct of this otherwise very satisfactory, almost old-fashioned, novel. Both main characters travel north in space and back in time. They travel partly by train, partly by car not aware of one another, each occupied by his own thoughts, each troubled by the course of his and her life. Neither is pleased with the past but both assume it; she is more easily satisfied with the course of events than he is. He is the more solid person, the more moral judge of his own culpability; she is freer to play and enjoy herself.
The two were married, briefly, long ago. They were in love, also briefly and neither has been able to settle for the resolution.
I shan’t develop the story except to insist that the pleasure of the writing, of the observation, of the analysis both of the portraits and of the landscape, are exquisite and well worth the journey. It is the mature novel of a talented woman with a brilliant mind and with luminous powers of observation.