Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

"The Millstone" by Margaret Drabble (Penguin 1968)

Long ago I read a few Drabble books. I knew about students then, but I didn't know how graduates lived, or how the middle classes lived. In Drabble's books I encountered emotionally articulate women, London lifestyles, and people who were interested in literature. I saw dramatizations starring Sandy Dennis.

I know I read "The Millstone" but now I've re-read it I feel it couldn't have contributed to my abiding impression of Drabble books. I finished it, but only just. The quality of the writing didn't propel me along. Is the main character supposed to come over as snobby? Maybe. When she found out that her lodger has been writing a novel about her, she was more annoyed by the novel's attack on scholarship than the invasion of privacy. But maybe it's just that times have changed. No longer do mothers stay 9 days in a maternity ward, neither do unmarried mothers have a "U" at the foot of their bed.

The character has a Ph.D so we should expect some elevated, controlled writing - "Lydia, who had hitherto been accepting our devious comfort, suddenly turned on us with a wail of despondency", (p.9); "she wore her grief well: she spared herself and her associates the additional infliction of ugliness, which so often accompanies much pain", (p.135)

The baby's nameless more often than I'd have expected - "I remember, however, the night before it was born with some clarity", (p.87); "And so the summer wore away, and autumn set in, and the baby started to sit up", (p.112)

I think the plot is that she becomes more self-assured. At the start she thinks of the father that "He must be one of these bisexual people, I thought, or perhaps even he's no more queer than I am promiscuous, or whatever the word is for what I pretend to be. Perhaps we appeal to each other because we're rivals in hypocrisy", (p.27). When the child is born she has a funny feeling - "Love, I suppose one might call it, and the first of my life", (p.98). Later she's brave enough to talk to neighbours, she realises that "If I asked more favours of people, I would find people more kind", (p.156). At the end she invites home the unknowing father having not met him for 2 years. She likes him. He asks if she'd like to travel the world with him. She turns him down, sort of - "I asked him if he would have another drink. But I asked him in such as way that he would refuse, and he refused.
'I can't help worrying,' I said. 'It's my nature. There's nothing I can do about my nature, is there?'
'No,' said George
" (p.167). We're left wondering whether motherhood has changed her much. Before, she loved no-one and had a career planned. After, she has someone to worry about and has a career planned.

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