A Natural Curiosity

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Overview

The insatiable passion to know drives virtually all the characters in A Natural Curiosity: Liz, united with her divorced husband to fnd their friend, Liz's sister Shirley, who learns the truth about their mother's life and death, and Alix, who visits with an imprisoned mass-murder and learns things she doesn't want to know.

The insatiable passion to know drives virtually all the characters in A Natural Curiosity: Liz, united with her divorced husband to fnd their ...

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A Natural Curiosity

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Overview

The insatiable passion to know drives virtually all the characters in A Natural Curiosity: Liz, united with her divorced husband to fnd their friend, Liz's sister Shirley, who learns the truth about their mother's life and death, and Alix, who visits with an imprisoned mass-murder and learns things she doesn't want to know.

The insatiable passion to know drives virtually all the characters in A Natural Curiosity: Liz, united with her divorced husband to fnd their friend, Liz's sister Shirley, who learns the truth about their mother's life and death, and Alix, who visits with an imprisoned mass-murder and learns things she doesn't want to know.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Continuing her ironic depiction of ``mean, cold, ugly, divided, tired . . . post-imperial, post-industrial'' Britain, and again taking up the lives of Liz Headleand, Alix Bowen and only tangentially Esther Breuer--met in The Radiant Way --Drabble here produces a tighter and more cohesive story, though sometimes burdened with polemic digressions. Obsessed with divining the origin of his gruesome deeds, Alix visits mass murderer Paul Whitmore in prison; psychotherapist Liz, outspoken in her views of child sexuality and sexual abuse, muses that human life ``is nothing but a history of deepening psychosis.'' They and other characters confront the problems of racism, international terrorism, random violence, family relationships in the era of divorce, unemployment and urban blight--a cross-section of the ills for which they hold Margaret Thatcher partially responsible. Alix finds an answer of sorts to the mystery of Whitmore's character; the puzzle of Liz's mother's life, left hanging in the earlier book, is solved; Liz's sister Shirley Harper temporarily disappears and returns a new woman. While Drabble's quirky characters often seem to exist to vent their author's spleen, they animate an involving story. 30,000 first printing; first serial to Harper's; author tour. Sept.
Library Journal
Drabble's latest is a worthy sequel to The Radiant Way LJ 10/15/87 , continuing its story of enduring friendship among three vibrant women. Leading very different lives, they are united in an incessant desire for truth in matters large and small. Psychiatrist Liz Headleand keeps one eye on her ex-husband's search for a missing colleague and the other on her sister's alarming behavior after a family tragedy. Esther Breuer, living uneasily on the Continent, ponders her own heart. In northern England, Alix Bowen divides her time between visits to a mass murderer and the archives of a reclusive poet. A satisfying denouement reveals at last the secret of Liz's parentage. The diverse plotlines develop amidst an abundance of social detail about 1980s Britain, providing a rich and fascinating texture. A winner; highly recommended. --Starr E. Smith, Georgetown Univ. Lib., Washington, D.C.
From the Publisher
“A brilliantly accomplished and wonderfully entertaining morality tale for our times.”
Vancouver Province

“Drabble’s observations are everywhere translated into a wry humour with a bite that bruises more than tragedy itself.…”
Globe and Mail

“Clearly a novelist with a social conscience, and with a firm grasp on the hearts and minds of the English middle class, Drabble is like a contemporary Dickens.”
Toronto Star

“[Drabble creates] a fascinating cross-section of convincing imaginary lives. She credits her readers with natural curiosity, then amply rewards them.”
Time Magazine

“An excellent, artful and acute novel.…Drabble harnesses her journalistic impressions to a novelist’s invention and leaves us in stunned, even cheerful contemplation (God help us) of the meaning of life.”
–Montreal Gazette

“[Drabble is] a perennially entertaining and intelligent novelist who can always be relied upon for a provocative as well as a good read.”
Ottawa Citizen

“An intriguing page-tuner.…Drabble’s characters are too intelligent to become enmeshed in melodrama. Their voices are vigorous, their actions compelling.…Thoughtful and compassionate.…”
London Free Press

“Drabble’s characters have lodged themselves in my mind.…The compelling vitality of the characters with their attendant curiosity buoys up the novel”
Edmonton Journal

“Margaret Drabble has defined our times better than any other woman novelist.…The novel stands on its own as a great document of British life at the end of the century.…Energizing.”
Chatelaine

“[Drabble] invites us to see beyond the filth and horror of modern life to the world of possibilities in our own lives, where we also have the power to write our own endings.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“[Drabble’s] talent for observing contemporary Britain – political, social and economic –is as intelligent as ever.…”
Hamilton Spectator

“With humour and sympathy, Drabble uses [her characters’] stories to illuminate the social decay in Britain (and by extension all of the West) through a series of powerful images, from serial murder to suicide.”
Books in Canada

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781856955010
  • Publisher: ISIS Large Print Books
  • Publication date: 7/28/2001
  • Series: Isis Series
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 8 Cassettes, 11 hrs. 29 mins.
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.12 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Margaret Drabble
Margaret Drabble was born in Sheffield, England, in 1939, and studied English at Cambridge University. Her novels include The Radiant Way, A Natural Curiosity, The Gates of Ivory, The Witch of Exmoor, The Peppered Moth, and, most recently, The Seven Sisters. Among her non-fiction works are Arnold Bennett: A Biography, A Writer's Britain, and Angus Wilson: A Biography. She is also the editor of The Oxford Companion to English Literature.

Margaret Drabble has three children and is married to the biographer Michael Holroyd. She lives in London, England.

Biography

With her shrewd, mannered descriptions and dialogue, Drabble can say a lot. Take this line from The Witch of Exmoor: "He bites his nails between grapes, and avoids eye contact. A mother -- but perhaps not his -- would note that he is too thin." The British author, who has been writing surprising and clever novels for some 40 years, tends to remain focused on female protagonists; but she is inventive when it comes to narration, sometimes where you least expect it. The Witch of Exmoor, for example, has a wry, omniscient narrator who begins with a godlike, "Begin on a midsummer evening. Let them have everything that is pleasant." In 2002's The Seven Sisters, the first section of the book is the main character's (often self-critical) computer diary, and unexpected shifts in perspective follow.

Her variations in narrative structure and her injection of political and social commentary into her works makes Drabble a particularly challenging and interesting writer. Her return to fiction after a seven-year gap, 1987's The Radiant Way, became a trilogy (completed by A Natural Curiosity and Gates of Ivory) that veered slightly into international adventure territory. Ivory, for example, flips between psychiatrist Liz Headleand (one of the three women first featured in The Radiant Way) and the writer friend for whom she is searching, a man who has gone to Cambodia for research. Unfortunately, several of Drabble's early and highly praised novels (including the first two books of the aforementioned trilogy) are out of print in the U.S. It's a shame, because those books are the ones that established Drabble as an important writer, and are the templates for Drabble's independent, intelligent heroines on the road to self-discovery.

A few critics who have been admirers of Drabble's since she began writing in the 1960s have gone sour on the author in her later years. On the release of The Witches of Exmoor, a Toronto Sun critic wrote, "I am so sad and sorry to report that Margaret Drabble, once one of the best novelists on earth, is past her best," calling the novel a "rehash." Of 2002's The Seven Sisters, the story of middle-aged divorcee Candida Wilton's experiences as a newly single woman, a critic for Britain's Observer lamented the book's unconventional and somewhat cagey approach toward the end. "Altogether, Candida is alive enough that the novel's truncations ache like phantom limbs," the critic wrote. "The realised heroines of Drabble's magnificent books from the 1960s or 1970s would say to Candida, Tell me what it is like to be you."

Ultimately, part of the push and shove over Drabble's work comes down to a tension between literary invention and reader satisfaction; she has often been criticized for not caring enough about her characters to make them engaging. The New York Times wrote of The Gates of Ivory, "It's about politics and literature, terrorism and atrocities, love and life and death.... But ideas do not make a novel. Characters do. And we need to care about them, deeply." However, consider The Nation's take: "What I love about this novel is what I love about the best of Drabble's works -- it's rich and complex and allusive and textured and intertextual and takes on the big questions: life and art, representation and responsibility, the possibility of political action, the question of human nature. It's a novel of ideas at a time when most fiction seems deliberately lobotomized."

Good To Know

Possession author A. S. Byatt is Drabble's older sister. There was too much competition," Byatt says about her childhood relationship with her sister. "We didn't get on."

Drabble was an actress with the Royal Shakespeare Company after she graduated from college, and was an understudy for Vanessa Redgrave; she married fellow RSC actor Clive Swift in 1960. The two divorced in 1975, and Drabble later married biographer Michael Holroyd.

Also a scholarly writer of biography and nonfiction, Drabble has written several forewords to editions of Jane Austen's work as well as lives of novelists Arnold Bennett and Angus Wilson. The nonfiction includes a 1990 analysis and critique of property law, Safe as Houses.

Drabble has also written several plays including Laura, Isadora, and Bird of Paradise. She adapted her novel The Millstone as the 1969 film A Touch of Love.

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    1. Hometown:
      London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 5, 1939
    2. Place of Birth:
      Sheffield, England
    1. Education:
      Cambridge University

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2002

    it's a mad, mad world

    Delighted to learn that Margaret Drabble had written a sequel to her fine novel, The Radiant Way, entitled A Natural Curiosity, I tried to acquire a copy as quickly as I could. I reviewed The Radiant Way and so I thought that the seuel might shed some new light on some of the characters and ideas of the first volume or perhaps show up a point I may have missed. In any event, I was eager to read more in the lives of Liz, Alix, and Esther. The diffuse narrative, again set in contemporary (1987) Britain, is entirely realistic. Miss Drabble has changed things around a little; she has changed her focus. A Natural Curiosity is not a political novel , nor is it the Headleand saga, the narrator tells us directly. Rather, it is a 'pathological novel,' 'a psychotic novel.' (yeayy! just what i need) Similar to The Radiant Way, she renders her judgement on modern society. Her point in the sequel is that modern society is sick--psychotic even. And, as a clue to the issue she is probing, the words 'curiosity,' 'the human condition,' 'the human race,' 'normality,' 'human nature,' and 'nature/nurture' abound in the novel. The main question of the novel, alas, is' 'What is normal?' Miss Drabble has changed tack by splitting up the three friends--Liz, Esther, and Alix--and focussing more on the domestic and professional lives of the individuals. It is in those two contexts, primarily, that she considers the 'what-is-normal question. The characters are also trying to find meaning for their lives. A fascinating juxtaposition. 'Who pushes us?' or, as Liz asks herself in sadness, at one point, 'What next...and what is the point of what next?' We meet some new couples: Clive and Susie Enderby, Edward and Janice Enderby, Fanny and Ian Kettle, and the separated parents of Paul Whitmore, the Horror of Harrow Road. What these couples have in common is that they are representative British middle-class couples that Miss Drabble includes both for the sake of plot and for illustration of her point. She portrays the nature of these couples' marital relationships to show the marks that the 1980's have left on the marriage: infidelity, lack of communication, overworked husbands, misery and family disharmony. Those are symptoms of a deeper problem, the 'abnormality is in-built.' Liz is essentially the same person in this novel as she was in the The Radiant Way. She is a successful, busy psychotherapist. But she has lost the companionship of her two close women friends (as she has in The Gates of Ivory). She has become entangled in the fashionable issue of 1987, child sex abuse, taking part in a televised panel discussion and being asked by Lord Rothven, President of the National Child Care Trust, for advice on dealing with a child sex pornography scandal. Her sister, Shirley, runs away after her husband commits suicide. She discovers that she has a third sister, Marcia Campbell, who was born a year before she. The abnormal has touched Liz's life at several points; and, as a result, she considers normality and abnormality in her own way: 'She tried to think of the whole human race, on its quest for its own self and its own destruction.' Alix and Brian have moved to Northam, where they both seem happier. Their marriage has remained a good one. Alix's two main interests are a convicted murderer and an ancient poet. The former, Paul Whitmore, is a friend and subject of inquiry for her and the latter is her employer. As Alix spends time talking to her poet employer and looking through his papers and letters, it seems that the change of work environment has done her good. With her ancient poet, she is contentedly occupied. But, the abnormal has also touched Alix's life in the guise of Paul Whitmore: 'He has come to her by chance, but it is almost as if she had invented him, as an illustration of whatever it is she wishes to discover about human nature.' (a theme to come in GI) She is friend and social worker to him. My impression,

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