Returning to fiction after seven years, Margaret Drabble give us a novel of extraordinary depth
and feeling - an acute and passionate chronicle of our time - a beguiling combination of the contemplative
and the concrete, the humorous and the dire. Tracing the lives of three Englishwomen, The Radiant Way
is not only a story of individuals, but a vivid and penetrating portrait of an entire society.
It begins on December 31, 1979. Liz Headland, Alix Bowen, and Esther Breuer - "the oldest of old friends,"
part of one another's lives since their Cambridge days twenty-five years earlier - have gathered at Liz's home,
where a sprawling New Year's Eve party is about to begin...
Liz is perfectly pulled together, as always; unassumingly elegant ("quite satisfactory," she might say).
A successful psychotherapist, she handles career, marriage (twenty years), children (five), and an active
social life (two hundred friends expected tonight), with an almost unnatural ease: to the world she seems
a rock of good sense, warmth and strength...
Alix, glowing with health, is there without her husband. He'll arrive later; she's completely understanding.
She's also compulsively generous, and committed: to her husband, her sons, her friends, and her students;
young women in prison - her commitments burning on a fuel of highly politicized ideals and volatile romanticism...
Esther looks familiarly eccentric (but precisely groomed) in her well-worn embroidered Chinese dress.
Diminutive in stature, she stands out by virtue of an arresting strength of mind and a fantastic array
of interests: from the obscure Italian Renaissance artist who is her life's work to the mad contemporary
Italian anthropologist who is her life's obsession...
Three friends with good lives - not extravagant, not without problems, but full and fulfilling, lived with
intelligence and ardor, and studded with pleasures. Yet, as the seventies give way to the eighties,
what each ahs assumed for herself, what each has grown accustomed to, gives way to the unexpected and
to upheaval. As we follow them through the next five years, we see their world changing around them and
we see each woman confronted with difficult, often painful, truths - about this new world and, more
profoundly, about herself within it.
The narrative, woven through with the past, reveals the intertwining roads the women have followed to
arrive at this time of reconsideration and change; how each left her childhood home in the provincial
North and made her way to a more sophisticated life in London; how each is still tied to her past in
startling but ineluctable ways. And as the novel unfolds, we see them at the center of a large and
richly layered canvas (London, glittering and sinister; the gray, depressed North country; the people
from both walks of life who inhabit the women's worlds) that gives us a sweeping, incisive view of England
today and of how, over the past quarter-century, it has changed, declined, and survived.
In its intellectual sophistication and emotional intensity, its awareness and generosity, The Radiant Way
is Margaret Drabble's most compelling novel - stimulating and sobering by turns - and, by far, her finest.
Margaret Drabble is the author of nine previous novels and a biography of Arnold Bennett. She lives in London.