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Book Review: The Millstone by Margaret Drabble

millstone margaret drabble Book Review: The Millstone by Margaret Drabble

In my perusals of Buenos Aires bookshops for English-language material I unearthed, along with all manner of questionable bodice rippers and deliciously un-PC adventure stories, a couple of gems that I suspect will stay with me for some time: Shirley Hazzards languidly striking'The Bay of Noon'(see my review), and Margaret Drabbles The Millstone, a marvellous read that teeters oh-so-ambiguously on the wire between comedy and tragedy, and which boasts a rather pugilistic nature, no doubt packing a punch (or at least raising an eyebrow) upon its release in the 1960s.

Intelligent and educated, Rosamund Stacey has at her disposal all the benefits of a liberal middle-class upbringing: her parents, both academics, have railed against the sharply delineated social norms of British society in order to raise Rosamund and her sister as sophisticated egalitarians; nevermind than in doing so they must carefully turn a blind eye to their own privileged status. Rosamund, though happy enough to take advantage of the benefits brought by this upbringing, is uneasy when it comes to acknowledging it, and this disquiet conflict is evident in the close-lipped approach she takes whenever it comes to discussing her present or future circumstances. Rather than denying or confirming her privileged upbringing, Rosamund simply lets others make of her circumstances what they willan evasive approach that has extraordinary consequences as Rosamund grows older.

Such evasiveness is notable not only in her taciturnity regarding her living situationthough a full-time student, Rosamund has the run of a large flat, and her unwillingness to discuss how this came to be leads her acquaintances to believe that she is far more well off than she isbut also in her romantic relationships. Rosamund has a habit of simply falling into relationships, whether platonic or otherwise, simply because its easier to allow them to progress than it is to end them. She is not, however, one to push things of her own accord: despite nominally being in two romantic relationships, she consummates neither, exhibiting an asexuality thats fitting with her let-it-be 'mindset. However, this propensity towards letting things simply go the way they will eventually turns against her: after passively going along with the advances of yet another suitor, Rosamund finds herself pregnant.

While an out-of-wedlock pregnancy is not especially noteworthy today, The Millstones context is such that Rosamunds situation is rather more difficult. With access to legal abortion highly curtailed, Rosamund decides to keep the baby, an action that is at once a clear fit with her character and one that seems in conflict with it. Keeping the child, of course, is in line with her approach of what will be will be, but yet doing so will pit her against the institutions, both social and political, of the era, and has the potential to cause harm to those around her, something which she has assiduously avoided doing. But yet, channelling her parents liberal mindset, Rosamund blithely notes that her ability to continue her work and complete her doctorate should be in no way compromised by a baby, and simply goes about her merry way. There are two curiously divergent motivational currents running here: Rosamunds simple desire to let things progress as they will and a latent desire to fly in the face of whats expected of her. Rosamund is simultaneously furiously independent and strangely subservient, making for some fascinatingly conflicted reading.

But where the book really hits its stride is the later stages of Rosamunds pregnancy and her childs eventual birth, upon which Rosamund finds herself wrestling not only with her desire to remain independent and to avoid leaning on, or inconveniencing in any way, those around her, but with the sudden challenge to her liberal beliefs that her child presents: her world suddenly shrinks to one that involves only her and her child, precluding all others.

Beautifully and wryly written, The Millstone'is a thought-provoking read that, although dated, contains a good deal that will resonate with todays reader, and is certainly worth seeking out.

Rating: star Book Review: The Millstone by Margaret Drabblestar Book Review: The Millstone by Margaret Drabblestar Book Review: The Millstone by Margaret Drabblestar Book Review: The Millstone by Margaret Drabbleblankstar Book Review: The Millstone by Margaret Drabble (excellent)

Other books by Margaret Drabble:

day in the life of a smiling woman drabble Book Review: The Millstone by Margaret Drabblesea lady margaret drabble Book Review: The Millstone by Margaret Drabblepattern in the carpet margaret drabble Book Review: The Millstone by Margaret Drabbleseven sisters margaret drabble Book Review: The Millstone by Margaret Drabble

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  1. That sounds interesting. I find people who dont make decisive decisions the least easy to understand. Im quite the opposite. Reading about one would be far easier (maybe?) than dealing with such a person in real life.
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  2. Stephanie /

    Its really quite a magnificent read, and I know I havent done it justice in this review. Poor husband has been subjected to many hours of discussion over this one! :) Its not a light read, but that said, its not a humourless one, so you wont come of it feeling as though youve been whacked over the head with the Serious Stick, so dont be afraid to give it a go. Id be curious to hear your thoughts on it. :)

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