THE SEVEN SISTERS by Margaret Drabble

seven sistersSeven Sisters alludes to the Pleiades, and among other things, it can refer to the series of chalk cliffs by the English Channel.   I don’t want to get too bogged down in any symbolism implied by the title.  It is just as likely to refer only to the seven women who become involved in one way or another in the life of the main character as it is to Greek mythology or forms of geology.

Candida Wilton is the prim, prissy, priggish late middle aged wife of a headmaster at an educational institution.  She doesn’t much like him or her three daughters, and the hubs divorces her for the mother of a deceased friend of one of her daughters.   Gee, That’s complicated.  Her daughter had a best friend, and this best friend filled her pockets with rocks and walked out into the middle of the pond and drowned.  Candida’s husband left her for the mother of the drowned girl.

So Candida decides to change her life completely, from the classy and snobbish high end English county life, to a small flat in a less lovely part of London, where she tells us

half the people around here look psychotic.  You can’t tell the muggers from the mad.

We learn of all this by way of a diary she has decided to keep.  In the diary, she comes off prissy and whiney, and admits so, and wonders how she can change this.

I’ve just read what I wrote yesterday, about the Health Club.  I am quite interested in the bleating, whining, resentful, martyred tone I seem to have adopted.  I don’t remember choosing it, and I don’t much like it.  I wonder if it will stick.  I will try to shake it off.  I will try to disown it.

We learn of her two friends from the country, and of a couple of new friends made in the city.  She begins her life there by taking a class in Virgil’s Aeneid, where they study the work with translations alongside the original version in Latin.  The continuing ed institution sells its building to a company which installs in it a health club, and the classes end.  After coming into a little money, enough perhaps for a trip, she gets the idea to travel to Naples and sets about collecting some friends to go with her, one being the elderly woman who taught the Aeneid class, another is a friend from her former life, whom she doesn’t much like either,  and all in all, including their tour guide, they make a party of seven.

In the second part of the book, a third person narrator takes up the tale, telling us of Candida’s suicide in the canal near her apartment in London, after the trip, purporting to be her eldest daughter doing the writing.  And then we learn that no, it was still Candida trying to get rid of her whiney voice, and that she is still very much alive.

It is not a book in which very much happens,  but enough happens to keep us women of a certain age interested.  It is a story of change, but not of changing.  I got from it the idea that our circumstances can change, we can make changes, but that, other for some small things, we don’t ourselves essentially change.  And we don’t essentially change because we like or are comfortable with whom we really are, bleating, whining and resentful though we are.

It is essentially a woman’s book, and maybe even a woman-of-a-certain-age’s book.  I am not sure a young woman would have much interest in it, nor would men, but then, what do I know.  I loved it.  Even though I am only 37.  Cough cough.

 

 

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