THE DARK FLOOD RISES – Margaret Drabble

I can’t think when last I enjoyed a novel so much. I read it in fairly short doses, savouring the witty, energetic prose and revelling in the cast of interesting and sometimes eccentric characters. The theme of the book is an exploration of elderly people’s inevitable journey towards death and dying. Grim and morbid, you may be thinking, but not so. Not at all. Some of the characters fade away into dementia, some deal bravely and heroically with the impending end, others  stubbornly keep on keeping on.

I loved the central character Fran Stubbs, whizzing about, still employed, restless and always doing, doing. I have to say I could see many aspects of myself and my own life in Fran’s busyness. Except I certainly don’t share Fran’s zeal for determinedly driving up and down the highways of England! Fran lives in London on her own, as does her lazy ex-husband Claude gently passing his declining years in bed, in the utmost comfort and luxury. She nobly takes him home- cooked plated dinners at intervals – silly woman. Like I said: busy, busy.

Fran’s son Christopher is on Lanzarote, following the unexpected death of his partner Sara. Here he meets the affable duo of Sir Bennett and his partner Ivor who are hospitable and entertaining . As I said, the cast of characters is varied and lively . Most of the main characters share tenuous connections or shared histories, and its fascinating to see how networks of friends and acquaintances form and dissolve in elderly people’s lives.

Apart from the six main characters and the unfolding of their lives, Margaret Drabble packs in an astonishing amount of wildly varied information en route, as she tells us about the characters’ life work, or their current hobby horse, or simply their personal history. One comment on the back cover referred to the boom as “wide ranging”. It certainly is. That was part of my enjoyment of the book – the snappy detail about a huge variety of topics. The book offers depth and texture without being tedious in the process.


I didn’t want the book to end, but of course, it did and I closed it reluctantly. What a feast! Heartily recommended.

P.S. I would love to hear younger readers’ opinions of the book. I’ll check on Goodreads. I suspect the book’s primary appeal will be to older readers, but I could well be wrong.


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