Margaret Drabble is covered in suntan lotion.
Or more accurately the review copy of her latest novel “The Pure Gold Baby” is permanently marked by suntan lotioned, sticky fingers. This is a mark of how, once you are in the rhythm of the work, unputdownable her new book is.
I confess that I had not read much of Drabble’s output since the 1960’s (2004 The Red Queen, for sure) so I approached Pure Gold Baby with an open, not to say blank mind.
The narrator the “I” of the book, tells Jess’s story stretched over 50 or 60 years but as the novel progresses the narrator’s tale is as critical to the novel as is that of Jess. Jess’s story is also that of her daughter Anna – the Pure Gold Baby of the title. Anna is born in the 1960s, to single-mim Jess, with special needs. Anna’s innocent humanity is the emotional pivot at the core of the book
Set in an enclave of North London, and the group of mothers that Jess knows, we explore typical Drabble, universal themes of human relationships, responsibility, the increasing crassness of a market economy society and, (inevitably) growing old. This is the familiar territory of Drabble’s brilliant novels in the Sixties, but now told in reflection from the present day, with the wit and wisdom that hindsight brings.
If you are a Drabble fan who thought she had lost her way, then this is a return to form. If you are new to Drabble this is a great place to start.