It is 1905, and Bessie is a small child living in a South Yorkshire mining town. Unusually gifted, she sits quietly and studies hard, waiting for the day when she can sit the Cambridge entrance exam and escape the way of life her ancestors have never even thought to question. At the other end of the century her granddaughter, Faro, is listening to a lecture on genetic inheritance. She has returned to the town where her grandmother grew up and sees the families who have lived there for longer than anyone can remember. But for all her exotic ancestry and glamour, has she really travelled any further than them?
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The Peppered Moth, Margaret Drabble's first novel for five years, tells the stories of four generations of one family, homing in on the female line, and attempts to explain how genes, DNA and environment can change or challenge an individual. The tale begins with Bessie Bawtry, a gifted young woman from a South Yorkshire mining town, who does not live up to her promise, and ends with her granddaughter, Faro Gaulden, "a bobby dazzler" who's radiant with opportunities and ideas, but who still isn't quite making the most of what she has.
It would be a fairly straightforward and enjoyable tale of family life and inherited characteristics, but for Drabble's tone which is, frankly, uneasy. It wavers from the cod nature documentary voice-over of "we must try to rediscover the long-ago infant in her vanished world" to the embarrassingly elegiac "o poor young girls in flower, you poor frail darlings, who will watch over you, who will guide and protect you?"
The afterword goes a long way to explaining this waywardness. Bessie Bawtry, with her hard-won education, her relinquishing lapses into illness, her life of continually deferred pleasures, is based on Drabble's mother, and Bessie's marriage to kindly Joe Barron, and his "lifetime of tragic appeasement", is the fictionalised account of her parent's relationship, in all its bitter tensions. Consequently, there is the sense of filling in biographical gaps with fictional plots and characters, and then carefully spreading thin scientific metaphor over the whole to smooth everything out nicely. Unfortunately it doesn't work; Drabble is too personally involved and her prose suffers for it. It juts and jars at awkward angles, a gawky adolescent of a book rather than a mature, measured reflection on the consequences of family history. --Eithne FarryAbout the Author:
Margaret Drabble was born in Sheffield and lives in London. She was awarded the CBE in 1980. Her novels include A SUMMER BIRD CAGE (1963), THE GARRICK YEAR (1964), THE MILLSTONE (1965), THE ICE AGE (1977), THE MIDDLE GROUND (1980), THE RADIANT WAY (1987), A NATURAL CURIOSITY (1989), THE GATES OF IVORY (1991) and THE WITCH OF EXMOOR (1996). She has also published several works of non-fiction.
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Book Description Penguin Books, Limited (UK), 2001. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 0140297162
Book Description Penguin Books, Limited (UK), 2001. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0140297162