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The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble
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The Dark Flood Rises (2016)

by Margaret Drabble

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Middle class friends and acquaintances age and muse about dying. It worries none of them. Everyone manages easily. But it makes them reflect. A novel about the inner self rather than the physicality of age and death. Well enough done but musings rather than deep thought. ( )
  Steve38 | Aug 9, 2018 |
Once it was established that this month’s book was not selected in an ‘age related’ context, we had a great discussion concerning aging populations, communities, institutions and end of life choices. Drabble’s protagonist, Fran, takes us along on a somewhat melancholy (some would even say morbid) trip down memory lane in which she recaps and reminisces events in her life in an attempt to hold back the ‘rising flood’ of age. Still working and taking an active approach to caring for others, Fran finds herself struggling with the day to day concerns of growing older … but thankfully, not without some humour.

Generally our group praised the writing style, albeit at different levels (from great to okay), and felt the realism of both characters and society’s views on aging were extremely accurate … in fact, ‘accurate’ was used as a description for the story overall.

There was discussion on the structure and why Drabble played with several different storylines and did they intertwine or overlap in a philosophic sense. A few of us found ourselves searching further with some of the art and poetry references and others did a little more investigation on Drabble herself, discovering that she is the estranged sister of award winning author A. S. Byatt.

Mostly though we were more interested in Fran herself … her choices, relationships and where she found life was going to take her from here. In short, I guess you could say we all related to Fran in some way and decided that, like her, we would not over think the ‘age thing’ and instead face it head on with a smile (or at least a smirk) on our face.

Dapto Tuesday Book Club ( )
  jody12 | Jun 18, 2018 |
Margaret Drabble is one of the most renowned novelists in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. I have read many of her novels, and to my surprise, I recently discovered she had also written a number of short stories. I reviewed those stories last year, and I was thrilled at the opportunity to see an entirely different side of her as a writer. Her latest novel, The Dark Flood Rises, tells the story of a woman who decides to explore lots of places in England she never visited.

At first, I was afraid this might be depressing, but it turned out to be anything but. Fran Stubbs is twice divorced. Her second ex-husband recently passed away, and her first husband Claude, is seriously ill. She cooks several meals a week for him, and they revisit a lot of the old times they had. Fran also has a number of women friends, and they do a lot of things together. The “Envoi,” at the close of the novel, is something of a pleasant ending.

As is the case in many of the literary fiction novels I love so much is the detailed vocabulary, the references to most of the American and English novels I admire, as well as lots of introspection illuminated by an omniscient narrator. Here is a sample of her thoughts. Drabble writes, “Her new-old friend Teresa, who is grievously ill, wouldn’t be censorious, as she is never censorious about anyone. // I am the captain of my fate, I am the master of my soul. A Roman, by a Roman, valiantly vanquished” (2-3). A few pages later, she writes, “England is now her last love. She wants to see it all before she dies. She won’t be able to do that, but she’ll do her best” (5). “Fran doesn’t meddle with her children’s lives” (11).

Fran’s favorite places to stay while on her excursions are a chain motel. Drabble writes, “There is something robust and cheering about the sight of the Premier Inn Full English Breakfast and those who are devouring it. It is even better than the bright red dinner. Fran doesn’t go for the Full English herself, but requests a soft-boiled egg with toast. She would quite like to go over to the side table to make her own toast, but the not-so-young young woman labelled Cynthia, Cynthia with her chalk-white face and her raven-black hair, is so helpful and eager to please that Fran surrenders and allows herself to be waited on. All around Fran, younger people in their thirties and forties and fifties tuck into friend eggs and bacon and beans and hash browns and mushrooms and fried tomatoes and fried bread, all wielding their cutlery with an air of gusto. Condiments flow, the red and the brown and the mustard-coloured, and loud piped music resounds. Both Claude and Hamish would have hated the piped music, but Fran doesn’t mind it at all” (21).

Fran is a strong, empathetic, hard-working woman. Drabble writes, “Fran is fond of her flat in Tarrant Towers, although it is a bad address, a bad postcode, and the lifts often break down. But the view is glorious, the great view over London. She likes to watch the cloudscapes assemble from afar, the great galleons of cumulus sailing her way on the approaching storm” (31). Margaret Drabble’s latest novel , The Dark Flood Risesis a story of a woman in control of her life, with a job she loves, in a world of her own devising. 5 stars

--Jim, 5/21/18 ( )
  rmckeown | Jun 9, 2018 |
The Dark Flood Rises is a rather melancholic book although suffused with wit and sardonic social commentary. The reader senses that Drabble know that this may well be her last novel -- it has an air of finality about it. I started reading early Drabble in my late twenties when she was chronicling the difficulties of balancing career, marriage and children as was I. Now, in my retirement, I am reading about retired professionals coping with life in their seventies -- it's been a long journey.

Francesca Stubbs, divorced with two grown children, continues to consult with a senior housing authority, periodically driving around England.
This is her story along with that of her friends and others with one degree of separation. Her friend Jo, a retired literature lecturer who continues to teach one adult class per semester, lives in a comfortable retirement community in Cambridge, is also friendly with Owen, a retired professor researching the sublimity of clouds in literature. Owen, in turn, is friends with the renowned Italian art scholar, Bennett, and his companion Ivor, whom he has visited in their carefully chosen retirement home in the Canaries. Bennett and Ivor are also connected to Fran through her son Christopher, whom they aided when his companion Sarah became suddenly ill and subsequently died. Teresa, a childhood friend, is suffering from terminal cancer. Fran's ex-husband, Claude, a retired surgeon, has become housebound, and Fran supplies him with home-cooked meals.

There is not a plot, per se, in the novel, rather an accounting of their day-to-day lives over a period of about two months. The characters deal with problems of the day -- refugees from Africa, a minor earthquake, the effects of climate change, and, of course, the conundrum of dealing with a burgeoning aging population.

I enjoyed the revealing of the characters, and as always, Drabble's sharp observations. The oddest thing I found about the book is the total lack of direct dialogue. I do recommend it to anyone interested in the aging process. ( )
1 vote janeajones | Mar 1, 2018 |
The dark flood of which Margaret Drabble writes is, of course, aging and death. This novel examines a number of ways in which this tide can be met as various seventy-somethings live their waning years. Fran still works, driving all around England (which she wishes to see all of before she dies) as an inspector of the various institutions where old people live, as well as making plated dinners for her ex, who is dying in comfort. Her friend Josephine lives in an apartment complex for retired academics; she still teaches literature for adults. Teresa is dying, not so much in comfort, of asbestos in her lungs. She relies on opiates and her faith in God to get her through. Meanwhile, down in the Canary Islands, Bennet has a large house and a long time live in companion. He lives stylishly until a fall, caused by an earthquake, rattles his brain. He will live out his life well cared for, but what will become of his partner, Ivor, when Bennet dies? There is no one to take care of him. In this tale, as in life, death does not only come to the aged; Fran’s son loses his lover to fast moving cancer. Fran’s daughter lives in a flood plain and monitors the world’s ecological problems as water, quite literally, rises.

There is not much in the way of plot. This is more of a philosophical novel; have these people lived good and useful lives? What does it mean to age with dignity? The characters are very well drawn; Drabble obviously cares for these people (she is in her late 70s herself, and so may be looking at her own circle) There is a sub-topic of another form a dark flood that is rising: the immigrants flooding in from Africa and the Middle-East, and the xenophobia that they are greeted with by white people.

The book is thoughtful, but not uplifting; neither is it gloomy despite the subject. It’s humorous in places; neither sharp wit nor irony fade with age. One bit that jarred was the ending; after slowly moving through a few months, suddenly years are compressed into a few paragraphs. Although now that I think about it, time does seem to work that way; in our youth time seems unlimited, while now, in old age, it seems to fly with frightening rapidity. Five stars. ( )
  lauriebrown54 | Feb 28, 2018 |
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Epigraph
Piecemeal the body dies, and the timid soul
has her footing washed away, as the dark flood rises.
D. H. Lawrence, 'The Ship of Death'

Through winter-time we call on spring,
And through the spring on summer call,
And when abounding hedges ring
Declare that winter's best of all;
And after that there's nothing good
Because the spring-time has not come—
Nor know that what disturbs our blood
Is but its longing for the tomb
W. B. Yeats, 'The Wheel'
Dedication
To Bernardine
1939–2013
First words
She has often suspected that her last words to herself and in this world will prove to be 'You bloody old fool' or, perhaps, depending on the mood of the day or the time of the night, 'you fucking idiot'.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374134952, Hardcover)

A magnificently mordant reckoning with mortality by the great British novelist

Francesca Stubbs has a very full life. A highly regarded expert on housing for the elderly who is herself getting on in age, she drives “restlessly round England,” which is “her last love . . . She wants to see it all before she dies.” Amid the professional conferences she attends, she fits in visits to old friends, brings home-cooked dinners to her ex-husband, texts her son, who is grieving over the sudden death of his girlfriend, and drops in on her daughter, a quirky young woman who lives in a floodplain in the West Country. The space between vitality and morality suddenly seems narrow, but Fran “is not ready to settle yet, with a cat upon her knee.” She still prizes her “frisson of autonomy,” her belief in herself as a dynamic individual doing meaningful work in the world.

This dark and glittering novel moves back and forth between an interconnected group of family and friends in England and a seemingly idyllic expat community in the Canary Islands. It is set against a backdrop of rising flood tides in Britain and the seismic fragility of the Canaries, where we also observe the flow of immigrants from an increasingly war-torn Middle East. With Margaret Drabble’s characteristic wit and deceptively simple prose, The Dark Flood Rises enthralls, entertains, and asks existential questions in equal measure. Of course, there is undeniable truth in Francesca’s insight: “Old age, it’s a fucking disaster!”

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 06 Oct 2016 20:59:26 -0400)

"A magnificently mordant reckoning with mortality by the great British novelist Francesca Stubbs has a very full life. A highly regarded expert on housing for the elderly who is herself getting on in age, she drives restlessly round England, which is 'her last love'. She wants to 'see it all before she dies'. Amid the professional conferences she attends, she fits in visits to old friends, brings home-cooked dinners to her ex-husband, texts her son, who is grieving over the sudden death of his girlfriend, and drops in on her daughter, a quirky young woman who lives in a floodplain in the West Country. The space between vitality and morality suddenly seems narrow, but Fran is not ready to settle yet, with a 'cat upon her knee'. She still prizes her 'frisson of autonomy', her belief in herself as a dynamic individual doing meaningful work in the world. This dark and glittering novel moves back and forth between an interconnected group of family and friends in England and a seemingly idyllic expat community in the Canary Islands. It is set against a backdrop of rising flood tides in Britain and the seismic fragility of the Canaries, where we also observe the flow of immigrants from an increasingly war-torn Middle East. With Margaret Drabble's characteristic wit and deceptively simple prose, The Dark Flood Rises enthralls, entertains, and asks existential questions in equal measure. Of course, there is undeniable truth in Francesca's insight: 'Old age, it's a fucking disaster!'"--… (more)

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