Candida Wilton has been ignored by her husband and children for years, before being displaced by a younger woman. Moving to London, alone, divorced and without much money, it seems she will now enjoy a life only of small pleasures- trips to the gym, visits to her reading group. When she receives an unexpected windfall, Candida gathers together six travelling companions - women friends from childhood, from married life and after - and maps out a journey she has long dreamed of, around Tunis, Naples and Pompeii, where her grey city lifecan blossom into one of colour and adventure. In The Seven Sisters, Margaret Drabble captures the wonder of second chances with dry wit, honesty and immaculate observation.
As one becomes...well, let's just say it...OLDER...it is nice to reflect on the experiences of others who have passed through this time and lived to tell of their adventures. Books are a very nice way to visit these hinterlands unscathed and this is a particularly good journey through. Recommended.
(I wouldn't be a good reviewer---not that I'm making that boast for myself, but anyway---if I didn't at least hint at the cool way Drabble uses shifting point of views in this story. That's all I'll say for now, but see what you think.)
As in The red queen, Drabble deliberately foregrounds the question of narrative authority by building contradictions and role-reversals into the text. This is fun, and it's the sort of thing we expect from writers of postmodern fiction, but it's hard to say whether it really deepens our understanding of the characters.
Then she inherits some money, and invites the women she considers friends from different parts of her life to accompany her on a tour of the sites from the Aeneid. They go, they have a (mostly) good time, and her life returns to normal, albeit with closer friends and improved relationships with her nearly-estranged children.
What makes the book interesting is the hope it holds out that exciting changes can happen to older women, and also the way the story resolves itself and the book ends. Also, Drabble’s writing style, with later sections not from the diary, provides unexpected shocks which keep reminding the reader that every story is someone’s version of events.
I enjoyed the book, although I don’t feel at all able to summarize it or decide what its overall message is. I think a book group would find a lot to discuss here.
The book is divided into four sections, each with a different viewpoint. The first and longest is Candida's diary that she has written to examine her life and situation -- it ends as she is about to embark on her Sicilian adventure:
I have just reread the whole of this diary. I am not proud of it. What a mean, self-righteous, self-pitying voice is mine. Shall I learn to speak in other tones and other tongues when I leave these shores? Do I still have it in me to find some happiness? Health, wealth, and the pursuit of happiness. The new declaration of our human rights.
Let me write this down. I am happy now. I am full of happy anticipation.
The Seven Sisters is a novel full of literary allusions and sly nods to such classics as Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook and Elizabeth von Arnim's The Enchanted April. While it's not my favorite of Drabble's later novels, it was an entirely satisfying summer read.
Did pick up because I thought there was going to be more about the trip to the Sorrento area of Italy, but was dispappointed that it was dominated by the journal entries of a slightly bitter "deserted" woman, living in near poverty in London
The story starts out as a diary of Candida Wilton, newly divorced mother of three daughters. Candida has taken her divorce settlement and moved from rural Suffolk to a slightly squalid London neighborhood. She takes a class reading Virgil’s Aeniad, but when the building is converted to a health club, she aimlessly joins. She has friends from school, whom she rarely hears from, and friends from Suffolk, whom she rarely hears from, and doesn’t seem able to make any solid new friends. When a sudden windfall lifts her from near poverty, she rounds up her friends for an adventure retracing the steps of Aeneas from Carthage to Naples. This is part one.
Part two suddenly shifts to third person and relates details of the trip to Italy. Then one of her estranged daughters weighs in as the narrator of part three, with a final section from Candida, post Italy. This must represent some sort of post-modern novel, but the ending confused me quite a bit. I am going to have to dig up some serious reviews and see what others think.
I really enjoyed the diary section. The issues of aging, broken relationships, loss of family and friends all made for an interesting excursion into the life and mind of a 50-something women who finally gets a grip on herself.
The section on the Italy trip was also good, but I felt it lacked some detail. The daughter’s section reminds us that every story teller tells his or her version of events. The last section really confused me.
Not the best Drabble I have ever read, but it certainly was worth the effort. This one will need a re-read sometime soon. 4 stars.
I returned this book to the library and immediately borrowed another Drabble book.
Yes, in the end the Seven Sisters leaves me with a few big questions. However, there is something about Margaret Drabble's writing that I just adore--the has a subtle cleverness that I think rewards the reader who is paying attention. Throughout reading this, I really did like it very much, even when it got sort of strange. This is the third Drabble I've read, and none of them have been the favourite of critics. I've liked them all and just look forward to reading more by her.
It did seem odd when the author switched from first to third person but the real kicker came when someone else takes over writing her diary! (I won't spoil it for you!) This is the only time the novel seems to have any depth of character - in fact, the writer in this part has proufound acumen in questioning life and what is reality and what is make believe! This part deserved 5 stars but it was short lived.
The author returns to her former style of Candida's bellyaching about life and it absolutely makes no sense. Several reviewers thought they were at fault for not understanding what Drabble was trying to achieve, but truly, the author simply gives so little insight into Candida's psyche that you cannot fathom the point of the book. Candida is a self deprecating woman who seems to never find acceptance or joy in her life, other's lives or her circumstances. A depressing read!!