- Reviewed by
What is good in Lynn Veach Sadler's study is her inclusion of Drabble's often ignored short stories. But that good is not enough reason to read this genuinely annoying book. Dr. Sadler's tone is at once gushing and chiding, and she is given to grandiose claims for Drabble's status. She praises Drabble, for example, for "making literature and literary influence legitimate in the contemporary novel" ("Preface"); someone ought to mention this to Anthony Burgess, Iris Murdoch, John Fowles, and others.
The book jacket uses the term "Drabble's fans," which nicely captures the problem with this study: it is directed toward adoring fans, not toward intelligent readers.
Those readers are addressed by John Hannay in The Intertextuality of Fate: A Study of Margaret Drabble. Hannay's work is based on reader response and focuses on intertextuality; as he explains it, "the concept of intertextuality presumes a reader's general literacy and competency in interpreting texts, but specific aspects of the intertext will vary, as do all critical interpretations, with each reader's particular background." Hannay proves a talented reader and guide as he looks for [End Page 363] the simple paradigms of fate that Drabble's "realistic surface plays against and frequently denies in the name of verisimilitude." Earlier I mentioned Dr. Sadler's claim for Drabble; ironically enough, Hannay's careful and convincing readings of The Waterfall, The Needle's Eye, and The Ice Age make a strong case for Drabble's extensive use of literary allusion.
Of particular interest to me is Hannay's third chapter: "The Return to Origin: The Needle's Eye." Hannay's reading ofthat fascinating and flawed novel supports his contention that "Fate here stands not for chance or for the whims of fortune but for the psychological determinism that, perversely it would seem, drives people knowingly to invite their own torment in their choice of marriage partner." For Hannay, Drabble's interest in fate is metaphorical rather than metaphysical, a view strongly supported by his three readings. I just wish that he had offered more elaborate readings of Drabble's other novels (very brief comments about the other books appear in his "Conclusion").
John Hannay's study might have offered more, whereas John Cooke's The Novels of Nadine Gordimer might have offered less (many points are overly repeated in the five chapters). I wish, too, that Cooke had made more use of Gordimer's wonderful short stories.
But that said, I must turn to praise of Cooke's work. Particularly impressive are Chapters Four, "Landscapes Inhabited in Imagination: Guest of Honour, The Conservationist, July's People," and Five: "Detachment and Identification: 'The Double Process' of a Mature Style." Cooke rightly sees A Guest of Honour as a novel permeated by "the sense of an African world" and describes that rich and powerful book as a turning point in Gordimer's treatment of black Africans. Cooke also makes a convincing case for his view of setting's subtle importance in conveying Gordimer's vision in The Conservationist. That novel has been overpraised for its internal world—the character's psyche—and underpraised for its remarkable landscape that Mehring, the central character, can never quite understand. Cooke rights the balance in his reading.
I quibble with Cooke's second chapter: "Leaving the Mother's House: The Lying Days, Occasion for Loving, and Burger's Daughter." His reading of the last novel overrates the power of Rosa Burger's mother: "Rosa atrributes her loss of freedom as a child and young woman largely to her mother." At the same time, Cooke...