Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A SUMMER BIRD-CAGE








A Summer Bird-Cage, Margaret Drabble, William Morrow & Company, 1962, 224 pp
 
 
One of the pleasures of the 1962 list in My Big Fat Reading Project has been reading first novels by authors I have always wanted to read or authors whose later novels I have read.

Examples: Cover Her Face by P D James, In Evil Hour by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Letting Go by Philip Roth, Love and Friendship by Alison Lurie.

Margaret Drabble is the sister of A S Byatt. In the usual way of the media, much has been made over the years about their sibling rivalry. Actually both women have been outspoken about this in interviews and though both are highly acclaimed British novelists still publishing novels, they still don't get along. I get it. I have such a sister.

Another theme in novels by women published in 1962 is a growing awareness of a woman's place in society and in marriage, which would eventually become the Feminist movement, although that question has come up sporadically in novels I have read from earlier years.

Examples: The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, Love and Friendship by Alison Lurie, An Unofficial Rose by Iris Murdoch.

A Summer Bird-Cage falls into both categories. Sarah, the main character, is a recent Oxford graduate who is working out for herself how to fit her high level of intelligence into adult life. She can't settle on a career, she can't find a man to love, and she is watching other women for clues. Her older sister Louise has always been a torment to her.

As the novel opens, she has been called home for Louise's wedding. All the years of enmity are still there. Louise got the beauty, Sarah the brains. Puzzling to Sarah is why her sister is marrying an older successful novelist who is also a rather despicable man. Did she marry him for his money?

Over the course of a year, she sees the marriages of both her best friend and her sister fall apart as she grapples with her own identity as a woman and as an aspiring writer. The shift of power between the sisters is the most fascinating aspect of the story.

I have read countless novels about this very thing and usually find them good because the relationships between women and sisters are interesting to me and resonate with my experience. What I found exhilarating in this one was the excellent writing. Drabble (only 25 when this first novel was published) is unabashed when it comes to demonstrating her own intelligence. The tone of the writing is modern with an emphasis on dialogue that reads the way people actually talk. 

I want more of Margaret Drabble!


(The Summer Bird-Cage is out of print but can be purchased as a used book or an eboook. I found my copy at the library.)
 
 
 

10 comments:

  1. It's interesting to watch the evolution of authors through their work. I'm engaged in that very task with two or three authors, and so far I'm enjoying it.

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    1. It is enjoyable isn't it? I look forward to your reviews of those two or three authors!

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    2. BTW, when is your review of The English Assassin coming up? I so want to read what you thought.

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    3. It will be my next post! Probably on Thursday or Friday.

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  2. Yet again you have introduced me to a writer with whom I'm unfamiliar. And yet again she sounds like someone I should add to my reading list.

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  3. Holy smokes I didn't realize Byatt and Drabble are sisters. Where have I been -- under a rock?! Your review makes me wonder what are some of the best contemporary novels about sisters? hmm. I'm drawing a blank for some reason, but it's an interesting dynamic. Does this one make the list?

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    1. For sure this one makes the list. I have been trying to think of other sister books but I am power reading The Big Green Tent right now for a reading group on Thursday and my mind is totally immersed in that amazing book. The one that comes to mind right away is Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld.

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  4. I liked your review and I am curious to discover this female writer...Congratulations to the BRAVE 15 years old youbg lady. Hugs

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    1. Thank you and happy reading!

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