The Dark Flood Rises

Margaret Drabble, The Dark Flood Rises, $29.99

I haven’t read any book by Margaret Drabble for years, so this was a bit of trip down memory lane. I can’t remember her being quite so “earnest” – I’ll have to re-read some of her earlier works. One reviewer of this, her nineteenth novel, remarked that people under 60 might not get much out of this book, but for those of us on the other side, it is an excellent survey of so many of the issues that come with ageing. The main character, Francesca Stubbs, is in her 70s and still working and travelling in her capacity as an assessor of programs and housing for the elderly – “housing for the refusing-to-die.” That will ring a bell for many of us! She is also still preparing and delivering meals for her ex-husband (which I found a bit hard to believe). More interestingly, she remains a loyal and devoted friend to women with whom she has shared years of intimacy. This aspect of her life seemed to me the most believable and touching of the many relationships described in the book.

Her relationships with her children are complicated, but again, the way she handles both daughter and son are believable and—strange words perhaps—decent and respectful. The challenging aspect of her life that struck me most was how she was dealing with her own ageing, and in particular, facing up to what she calls “the thinning of emotions” – finding it hard to recall “passionate and ridiculous emotions of her youth and middle age …” For anyone facing the latter third of their lives, this is as good an introduction to the process as any, certainly more engaging than the myriad of “how to” books on the subject!