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The Witch of Exmoor by Margaret Drabble

The Witch of Exmoor (1996)

by Margaret Drabble

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3671044,630 (3.47)64



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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
The eponymous witch of this novel is Frieda, a feminist best-selling author who has recently sold her family home and moved to a remote and crumbling mansion by the sea to write her memoirs. Her family thinks she has lost her marbles, and worries about her testamentary intent. Frieda's most recent book was a failure, and the family has been mostly ignoring Frieda, that is until a movie producer expresses an interest into turning it into a film. When her family tries to contact her, they discover Frieda has disappeared. Drabble uses this set-up to make wickedly funny comments on the state of current society. She writes in a semi-19th century tone with frequent ironic authorial asides. This was an enjoyable read. ( )
  arubabookwoman | Feb 28, 2017 |
In some ways I don't know what to think--Drabble is smart and she can write, but, I guess to entertain herself(?) she uses an annoying narrative style, the authorial intervention, interrupting to say, "And now we shall introduce a new character," and the like. The focus is on three grown children, their spouses and children and their not-quite-over-the-hill mother (somewhere in her sixties) who has been behaving strangely. They are all of them, in different ways, upwardly mobile, successful people. And not nice at all. No indeed, with the exception, perhaps, of one or two of the children. The book is cleverly put together, make no mistake. One character, a thoughtful British Guyanian, has a game he likes to play, the Veil of Ignorance, where you get to decide how to re-allocate all the wealth of a country for the greatest benefit of the people and Frieda, the grandmother, plays out her version of it in the course of the book. It's clever, and it has its moments, such as when grand-daughter Emily steps right into a fairytale, saving the hind from the cruel hunters. There is also a fabulous ramshackle house by the sea (shades of Iris). The best thing in it, as far as I'm concerned was a fabulous quote from Schiller, which I can't reproduce in its entirety in a review, but I can give you the page number! (p. 118-9 or the very last page of the chapter entitled "The Valley of Rocks"). I'm not sorry I read it. The ***1/2 reflects that Drabble has written better books. ***1/2 ( )
1 vote sibyx | Nov 19, 2016 |
My first Margaret Drabble! I liked how it opened with a family dinner, as I’m a sucker for books that feature food. It takes a while for us to actually meet the ‘witch’, that is, Freida Palmer, the matriarch of the family who has just moved into a ruin of a house in Exmoore, as quite a bit of the story is about her three children and their respective families. Frieda then disappears about halfway through the novel, and the focus is then back on her family’s exploration of their eccentric mother. I got a little irritated by that, as I was more interested in Frieda than her whiny family, and the omniscient narrator can get a little too much in this King Lear-ish adaptation. ( )
  RealLifeReading | Jan 19, 2016 |
Only a writer as talented smart and disciplined as Margaret Drabble could make a story like this eminently readable, compelling, brilliant, and uplifting. About once a year, I indulge in another Margaret Drabble novel - usually a re-reading, because I have always gobbled them up when published or when I find them, but somehow I missed this one at the time. Reading it was a completely engaging experience, similar to how I felt when I first read The Middle Ground when it was published - and some of her earlier books many years ago. Her protagonist Frieda Haxby is just a remarkable creature and I wanted to hear everything she had to say or thought - she has wisdom and insights that are profound and clearly come from a deep intelligence and perception and reflection, understanding so much about who we are and how we live today. I loved the occasional little "between you and me" asides from the author to the reader - reminding us we're in a story that doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is, and the tangents on culture, modern history, etc., that we expect from Drabble - I know some readers mind them, but I relish them - they are always interesting and educational! The pace, editing, and language were faultless - I was never bored, never wanted to skip a passage or a word, and from time to time was again struck by a sentence that was so remarkably crafted I had to slow down and savor it. Only a master could convey some very profound ideas in such a compelling, story-like way without beating us over the head with them. Too few writers have the ability, or the interest, in going deep while sustaining a great story line and realistic characterizations - in other words, I didn't think she relied on technique, or gimmick - just remarkably well-done narrative strength and command of a richly complex language that provides
enough depth for nuance and subtle precision. The ending - ah the ending - Emily and Benjie, two of the grandchildren - so "normal" and reasonable. The color of the last 25-30 pages, vivid and quickly-paced, full of hope, curiosity, wonder at the beauty of the earth and sea and energy and optimism and romance of the next generation. Life-affirming and uplifting. ( )
1 vote JaneReading | Oct 4, 2014 |
On a beautiful summer evening in Hampshire, esteemed author Frieda Haxby’s three middle-aged children and their spouses meet to decide what to do about her. Although she has always independent and eclectic, her recent move from London to a rotting abandoned hotel on a cliff in Exmoor has convinced them that she has gone mad. When she mysteriously disappears, they are beside themselves, though most of their concern surrounds their inheritance rather than her well-being. Haxby’s children are all a little self-centred, and the narrator makes sure we dislike them. This is a novel of family dynamics, but it’s also a state of the nation novel, complete with scathing satirical commentary on corporate greed and consumerism, human rights issues, the struggling health care system, and toxins in our food and environment.

Drabble is an absolute pleasure for me to read. The Witch of Exmoor is a post-modern fairy tale, told by a strong narrator who makes it clear that she is telling you a story. She does this by playing with layers of storytelling techniques—family stories, historical tales, classical mythology, Nordic mythology, the stories we tell ourselves, nation-building stories, Bible stories, advertising, poetry, Shakespeare, 19th century literature, lies, and so on. She also weaves through this themes of death (by drowning and suicide), dreams, decay, and nature (especially birds and sealife). Some readers will find this narrator overly intrusive and aggressive, and I can see their point. But I thought it cleverly complimented the fairytale structure of the story.

Recommended for: definitely recommended. Margaret Drabble draws extensively on literary allusion, so her books would appeal to the well-read person who enjoys detail. The novels Drabble wrote after about 1980 earned some harsh reviews, but I very much like her writing. The famous critic James Woods wrote a scathing review on[the Witch of Exmoor, but I think he missed the point of the novel, or at least completely missed its charm. ( )
4 vote Nickelini | Jun 2, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
In the end, this book gives off an unwitting pathos, because it seems to represent a genuine confusion about how to write fiction at the end of the century. Drabble's suffocating intrusions, her tossed plot, her disregard for character or plausibility or coherence, suggest the agitation of a sensibility that has missed an important appointment and is madly waiting for something to happen. In her frustration, Drabble is hardly alone. No novelist of penetration is really content, any longer, with the punctuation of traditional realism.
added by Nickelini | editNew York Times, James Woods (Oct 19, 1997)
A startling, mordantly funny portrait of contemporary Britain, and Drabble's (The Gates of Ivory, 1992, etc.) best and most assured novel in years.
added by Nickelini | editKirkus Reviews (Sep 1, 1997)
Swimming in the murk of post-Thatcher Britain and taking a stern but knowing view of the English bourgeoisie, this is postmodern family drama at its best.
added by Nickelini | editPublishers Weekly (Sep 1, 1997)
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For Adam Swift and Sindamani Bridglal
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Begin on a midsummer evening.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
t's been five years since Drabble's last novel, The Gates of Ivory, and she is at her sorceress' best spinning this wickedly gothic tale of one family's folly and tragedy. The witch of Exmoor is Frieda Haxby Palmer, a writer, "social analyst, prophet, sage and sybil," reluctant matriarch, and determined lone wolf. Bored with her three self-important and ambitious children and with all but one of her five grandchildren, and irritated by the viperish reviews of her last book, a historical novel about Queen Christina, she sold the family estate and bought a great, rotting mansion perched precariously above the sea. Here Frieda resides in eccentric solitude, working fitfully on her memoirs and enjoying her scheming family's increasing discomfort and concern over her sanity and her last will and testament. Drabble's finely etched portraits of Frieda's cold-blooded son Daniel, well-armored daughters Gogo and Rosemary, and their intriguingly conflicted spouses are priceless, bright mirrors reflecting the perversity of our times and our minds. Wielding an imperially impertinent narrative style, Drabble slyly contrasts the fairy tale^-like roles she has teasingly fashioned for her characters with acute social commentary, illuminating, in the process, all that has been lost in this age of toxicity and consumerism and all that has always been the scourge of our bloody species: selfishness and cruelty, greed and shortsightedness. Witty, original, and caustic, Drabble dazzles. Donna Seaman/Booklist
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0156006049, Paperback)

In a “profoundly moving, intellectually acute” novel (Philadelphia Inquirer) that is “as meticulous as Jane Austen, as deadly as Evelyn Waugh” (Los Angeles Times), Margaret Drabble conjures up a retired writer besieged by her three grasping children in this dazzling, wickedly gothic tale.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:17 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

An eccentric English grandmother as seen by her children. One of the more disturbing aspects of Frieda Palmer, a wealthy freethinker and political crusader, is that she has sold the family house to live as a hermit. The children are worried she might blow the rest of the inheritance.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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