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The Peppered Moth by Margaret Drabble
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The Peppered Moth (2000)

by Margaret Drabble

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5281019,108 (3.3)39
Recently added bylucyknows, private library, Patient, ChrisC47, GumBlossom, bohemima, AnneDC, cbl_tn, EBT1002, TheRussells

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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
I struggled with this one. The writing style is solid, but the story has that meandering quality to it that kept bring up the same question over and over in my head: "Why?" I probably should have read the Afterword first.... A story that is an author's attempt to develop understanding and meaning of the life of a departed family member through a fictional writing exercise is bound to leave some readers wondering about the direction of the story they are reading. For me, The Peppered Moth is more of a Drabble's catharsis then about the family stories contained on the pages. At least she admits that the exercise had mixed results, even for her. I did enjoy the historical detail the story contains and parts of the story reminded me of the manner in which Carol Shields chose to write her story The Stone Diaries... another book that some readers sings praise over while others wish to see it confined to the dustbin. If you haven't already guessed, The Peppered Moth is not an easy book to write a review for, so lets turn this review into a quick Q & A session instead:

Do I regret the time I invested to read this story? No. It didn't jump out and grab my attention but part of me could relate to or at least express sympathy for some of the emotions and experiences... although I did find the story to have a rather dour effect on me, which isn't a great positive.

Do I understand the choice for the title? Not really, so if anyone can explain their thoughts about why the title, I would appreciate it!

Will I read more books by Margaret Drabble? Not sure. I think the summary would really have to grab my attention, or if it was the only book available to read.

See.... even my Q & A isn't overly helpful in trying the capture my thoughts regarding this one. Let's try something a little different. The following quote, in my opinion, sums up this story quite nicely: "There are too many memories here. Impatience is overcoming Faro. She has several plastic bags full of rubbish, and she is sure she is about to discard something important. Though how could any of this be of any importance? These are such little lives. Unimportant people, in an unimportant place. They have been young, they have endured, they have taken their wages and their punishment, and then they have grown old, and all for no obvious purpose. And now she is throwing them all into a plastic bag. ( )
  lkernagh | Jun 7, 2015 |
Yes, the afterward was very moving.

Yes, there were a few brilliant sentences here and there.

Unfortunately, that isn't enough to lift it out of the mediocre. ( )
  MarthaJeanne | Jun 1, 2015 |
In this novel, Drabble examines the lives of three generations of women over the course of the 20th century. Bessie Bawtry is born in the early 20th century in Breaseborough, a mining town in the industrial north of England. Bessie eventually “escapes” from the provincial north. By the end of the 20th century, Bessie's daughter, Chrissie, lives in Oxfordshire and Chrissie's daughter, Faro, lives in London. However, their Yorkshire roots extend beyond recorded history. They may be genetically related to a man who lived thousands of years ago whose skeletal remains have recently been unearthed. Faro and Bessie's sister Dora, now a very elderly woman, have just contributed DNA samples to a research project seeking living descendants of the ancient man. (Or more exactly, living people who share a common maternal ancestor with him. The researcher will use mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from a mother to her children, to identify living relatives.)

Drabble explores questions raised by genetic and evolutionary science. To what extent is the shape of a person's life determined by the genes they've inherited from parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and unknown generations? Is it possible for later generations to change their destinies by adapting to new environments? The unusual narrative voice may alienate some readers. The style reminds me of the narration in newsreels of the 1940s and 1950s. Drabble reveals in an afterword that Bessie Bawtry is based on her mother, whom she describes as “harsh, dismissive, censorious”, and she states that she “went down into the underworld to look for {her} mother.” Perhaps Drabble used a distant narrative voice to deflect some of the pain she relived while she wrote this novel. ( )
  cbl_tn | May 31, 2015 |
This novel starts with Bessie, a brilliant scholar in a small mining town in Yorkshire, she is encouraged to get an education and move away. The detail of Bessie's early life until university is quite dense and engrossing with occasional flashes forward in time to her granddaughter, Faro. So far, so good. Bessie seems to be a well bought up girl who has a selfish streak. Her enjoyment of working during the war and her frustration when she has to give that up after the war are understandable for an intelligent woman. We then see her slide in to misery and unhappiness and the affect this has on her daughter is painful to see. The novel seemed to lose something at this point, as others have said Faro is difficult to grasp as a character. However, the section when Bessie dies and her daughter's reaction is excellent - making more sense when reading the author's afterword, which was very moving. Margaret Drabble pulls it all together reasonably well, linking DNA and families and place in a family saga. ( )
  Tifi | Apr 16, 2015 |
Should have stopped after the first 50 pages..... ( )
  francesanngray | Jan 7, 2015 |
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Epigraph
On Remembering Getting into Bed with Grandparents

It's amazing we got that far, loveless'
As you were supposed to be, yet suddenly
I have a longing for your tripeish thigh;
Swallows, thronging to the eaves; a teasmade
Playing boring Sunday news and all sorts of
Rites and rituals which seemed notable but
Were really just trips in and out of the
Bathroom, the neurotic pulling back of
Curtains, stained-glass window at the top of
Hall stairs; dark chocolate like the secret
Meaning of the world in a corner cupboard:
Three-quarter circle smooth as a child's
Dreams and as far above reach ...
'Loveless', the daughters said, years later when
The slow-lack peppered their brains like a dust,
And life had grown as troublesome as thought.
Yet just tonight, I am dreaming of your thigh,
And of the unconscious swallows thronging the eaves.

Rebecca Swift, 1993
Dedication
For Kathleen Marie Bloor
First words
It is a hot summer afternoon, in the hall of a Wesleyan Methodist chapel in South Yorkshire.
Quotations
... whereas Breaseborough once had three cinemas, it now has none, and that it has no 10-pin bowling, no McDonald's, no Kentucky Fried Chicken — you name it, Breaseborough hasn't got it.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156007193, Paperback)

In The Peppered Moth, Margaret Drabble chronicles four generations in the life of a family, homing in on the female line and attempting 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 fails to live up to her promise. It ends with her granddaughter, Faro Gaulden, "a bobby dazzler" radiant with opportunities and ideas, who nonetheless can't quite make the most of what she has. All of this would produce 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 clinical voice-over ("We must try to rediscover the long-ago infant in her vanished world") to the mawkish elegy ("O poor young girls in flower, you poor frail darlings, who will watch over you, who will guide and protect you?").

What happened? Drabble's afterword, in fact, explains a great deal of this waywardness. Bessie Bawtry, with her hard-won education, her relinquishing lapses into illness, and her life of deferred pleasures, is based on the author's mother. Consequently, there is the sense of filling in biographical gaps with fictional plots and characters, and then carefully plastering everything into place with a thin layer of scientific metaphor. Drabble, alas, is too personally involved with this material, and her prose suffers. It juts and jars at awkward angles, reducing The Peppered Moth to a gawky adolescent of a book instead of a mature, measured reflection on family history. --Eithne Farry

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:06 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A portrait of four generations of one family, this story explores themes of inheritance, DNA, the individual's place in history and fate. It spans from Bessie Bawtry, a small child living in a Yorkshire mining town in 1905, to her granddaughter, listening to a lecture on genetic inheritance.… (more)

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