The seven sisters

by Margaret Drabble

Paperback, 2003





Orlando : Harcourt, 2003.


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.

Media reviews

How successful would Margaret Drabble's publishing career be if she started out today? The doyenne of the "Hampstead dinner party" novel has become unfashionable, and this 2002 novel does not suggest that she was interested in reinventing herself. Which is possibly why it works so beautifully. . . . Drabble possesses the rare and wonderful gift of making her characters seem utterly real.
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The narrative takes several surprising turns, throwing the reader as off-center as Candida has become and proving that Candida herself has not been candid. But Drabble has: Candida's evasive account accurately charts the psychological territory of one who is suddenly cast adrift.

User reviews

LibraryThing member debnance
Candida Wilton is stuck. Her husband has left her. She is estranged from her children. She has moved off to the wilds of London and all that is keeping her grounded are her visits to the health club and writing in her journal. And then, quite unexpectedly, her friends.

As one becomes...well, let's just say 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.)
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LibraryThing member thorold
It's tempting to categorise this as "chick-lit for the over-50s" - the use of diary format, with its coy Victorian-novelish chapter summaries, gives it a certain Bridget Jones flavour which may be deliberate - but there's a different agenda here. Drabble is using the novel to analyse the importance of friendship for middle-aged women. Candida, recently-divorced, has decided to uproot herself from rural Suffolk and start a new life in a tiny flat in the not-quite-trendy London neighbourhood of Ladbroke Grove. She's not especially looking for a new partner, her relationships with her three daughters range from cool to non-existent, but what gives form to her new life are her friendships with various women - school friends, former neighbours, fellow students from an evening class on Virgil.

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.
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LibraryThing member karen_o
I did not find one thing to like about this book and would never recommend it. Candida Wilton is a boring and unattractive person leading an even more boring and unattractive life, which shouldn't be written about.
LibraryThing member cestovatela
This book has some definite dull spots, but I thought it was an exceptionally realistic portrayal of a woman trying, and not quite succeeding, to break away from her ordinary suburban existence. I also thought it was an accurate depiction of what travel can and cannot change in a life.
LibraryThing member JanetinLondon
This book is about a lot of things – loneliness, friendship, disappointment, families, story telling. 50-something Candida Wilton, recently divorced, has moved to a flat in London, where she knows no one. She joins an evening class discussing the Aeneid, and although she makes a few friends there, she doesn’t really see them outside the class, or go out much at all. The class closes, its building turned into a health club, so she starts going there instead, again not really making friends. She keeps a diary, which is what we are reading, at least at first. Her life ticks along.

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.
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LibraryThing member janeajones
Candida Wilton is a woman of a certain age who finds herself divorced, distant from her three daughters, living alone in a small London flat, and somewhat at loose ends. She swims at a health club, picks up with acquaintances whom she met while taking a seminar on Dante's Inferno, and convinces them to take a trip to Sicily to visit the places mentioned by Dante.

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.
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LibraryThing member nordie
Hmmm. So-so. I did get annoyed that the term "en effet" was used 3 times in 5 pages - I couldnt work out whether it was Drabble or the narrator trying to be overly pretentious.

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… (more)
LibraryThing member judyecoughlin
Listened to it on CD while making a 6-hour drive. Pretty good Margaret Drabble, although I too found the characters a bit dull. Some of Candida's friends were one dimensional. Interesting look at the woman cast off for a "newer model."
LibraryThing member rmckeown
This rather peculiar book has really left me perplexed. I discovered Margaret Drabble in grad school, and was surprised to learn she is A.S. Byatt’s sister. Byatt visited a class in British Women Writers. I had already known Byatt from her novel, Possession, and I have since read most of her novels. When I first read Drabble, I liked her, but not entirely and not as much. Her prose seems a bit stilted at times, and I had to stop on more than one occasion to pick up a thread she had dropped.

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.

--Jim, 2/6/11
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LibraryThing member oldblack
An interesting book - mostly, but not entirely diary-style. I find it a little puzzling (probably because I'm not smart enough to really understand the book as a whole) that the main part of the book is about a woman and her friends, and yet it finishes with a rather unexpected focus on the woman's relationship with her daughter. I guess that's a point that Drabble is making...a woman is looking for latter-life fulfillment and begins by turning away from her ex-husband and daughters. She later finds that she has to (or wants to) come to terms with her relationship with at least one of her daughters. The book involves consideration of the question of how the meaning of life and relationships might change as you get closer to death. I found this more engaging than the focus on the friendships arising from a classics class. Having said that though, Drabble's characters are *all* interesting in their own way, reflecting her skills of observation of the human condition in its many variants.
I returned this book to the library and immediately borrowed another Drabble book.
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LibraryThing member chicjohn
Dry humour and sharp writing
LibraryThing member turtlesleap
Candida is newly divorced as the story opens, her husband of many years having proved faithless. She is aging and alone and has chosen to start a new life in London in an area which, by turns, terrifies and pleases her. The first-person voice used in the first part of the book rings very true. There is self-pity here, puzzlement, and a certain protective detachment. Candida is very much alone. As time goes on, she forms friendships, renews old ties and, having come into a windfall, determines that she will invite her friends to travel with her to Greece, on a pilgrimage of sorts for students of Virgil. It would be easy to tell too much in a synopsis of this little novel and spoil the enjoyment of other readers but Drabble has done some clever things with shift in voice and has thrown in some surprises along the way. She explores a subject not much addressed in modern fiction--the crushing loneliness of women who must live out their lives alone and the ways they find to cope.… (more)
LibraryThing member bodachliath
A slight but charming story of a divorcee and estranged mother finding friendship and fulfilment in late middle age
LibraryThing member Nickelini
The first, and longest section, of Seven Sisters is a computer diary written by an almost-60 year old woman who has been discarded by her family--her husband has divorced her for a more youthful woman, her grown daughters all have their own lives, and her own mother is fading away in a care home. Candida leaves small town Suffolk and moves to a liminal area of London. This section has some interesting bits about loneliness, frugality, and friendship. Candida runs into some money, everything looks brighter, and she's off with a group of friends to take an educational vacation retracing the steps of the Aeneid. The second section of the book covers the vacation, and interestingly the narrative now switches to the third person. There are a third and fourth section too, but this is where the novel goes off in an odd direction and I can't even begin to explain what the author is doing.

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.
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LibraryThing member Annabel1954
A little uninspiring
LibraryThing member danfango
I almost gave up on this about half way in, until the Italian trip chapter, and overall the book turned into a 4 star.
LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
not in CLAN, worth buying only if I face an upheaval
LibraryThing member flutelaura
There were times that the protagonist Candida interested me, but mostly I found her a shallow person, incapable of any introspection nor an ability to forge meaningful relationships. She really never changes and from the first page to the last, Candida drones on in a whining fashion . . . forever blaming or criticizing friends and strangers alike. It became very tedious and banal.

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!!
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