Book Review: “The Ice Age” by Margaret Drabble – or “the dogs it was that died”

Love this, but can see it would not be everyone’s cup of tea

  • huge slabs of exposition/back story, with only minimal dialogue every few pages.
  • Central characters some will find irritating (various shades of privileged white men blah blah).
  • And animals dying (usually but not exclusively of natural causes) to indicate that Things Are Wrong With The World (like that scene in Macbeth).

But if 1970s “state of the nation” novels are your thing, with thoughts of moral/economic decline and the clashes between various generations (born during and after the war), then you will love this.

Central character is Anthony Keating, whom we meet ruminating in the big ol’ Yorkshire house he has bought and may soon have to sell, because his second career as a property developer seems to be turning out badly. Through him we meet a host of other characters either central or peripheral to his life. All are well-drawn, well-observed (though Drabble does more telling than showing). Ex-wives, current lovers, business partners, brothers, squatters etc. All are plausible, some lovable rogues, some just, well, rogues.

There are various prisons (literal and metaphorical), and various people making themselves unhappy to the best of their considerable ability and varying degrees of self-awareness. Lots of astute and acute observations about life, love, death, fashionable but empty forms of coping with the world, you name it.

Lots of quotable bits too- whole pages of observation or, in one case, a pent-up monologue. I particularly liked this bit-

“Alison Murray was beginning to have some very bad thoughts about her daughter Jane.

It seemed an inappropriate time to be having them, but they would not go away. They waved, like Medusa’s snakes, just beyond the edge of her vision, and she dared not confront them directly, though she knew they were there. She knew they were there because of the effort she was putting into not looking at them.” (page 46-7)

Thing take a decidedly odd (but within-universe-logical) turn in the third and final section, where Anthony is… ah, but spoilers, and this is one that doesn’t deserve spoiling.

There’s other Drabble to read, but only after I’ve actually finished this list.

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