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Posted April 24, 2014
Perhaps the rare and simple pleasure of being seen for what one is, compensates for the misery of being it.
- Margaret Drabble, A Summer Birdcage
A Summer Birdcage was published in 1963 by a 24 year-old Margaret Drabble about things that would concern a 24 year-old middle-class woman. Accordingly, the story is written in first person, drawing the reader into the protagonist’s mind as she explores the psychology of relationships, love, marriage, children and life purpose. The sixties is not a decade I generally read in and I wasn’t sure what to expect. The truly vintage cover, the pocket for the old-school library date due card, the sepia-toned pages, the heavy serif font, these things both put me off and drew me in. I never thought I’d find that not much has changed in the past 50 years.
The book opens with the protagonist, Sarah, returning home to England from a post-college stint in Paris. Her older sister, Louise, a beautiful yet mysterious and somewhat cruel woman of 24 is suddenly marrying. And so it goes. The sisters have a distant relationship due to Louise’s adolescent rejection of Sarah, but for brief flashes of tender connection. Sarah does not know why Louise is marrying a neurotic man no one can stand. She does not know what will happen with the man she loves, or if she will ever get married. She does not know what to do with her life though she does dream of writing a novel like Kingsley Amis. The story is full of existential observations through the lens of an intelligent thinker establishing her adulthood in a new era: the days are over, thank God, when a woman justifies her existence by marrying.
The author helped me to become Sarah. She became I. As one, we searched for answers about the underlying motivations of others and self. I found A Summer Birdcage to be unusually relatable. In my early twenties, I was like Sarah in many ways. A young privileged white woman, graduated from college with a “first,” single for the time being, traveling abroad and returning home to fulfill familial obligations although the real reason was that she felt it time to get started with “real life,” only to be faced with the freeing yet stifling notion that the world waited at her feet and she still didn’t know what the hell to do next. So Sarah and I, we followed the days, accepting invitations we didn’t really want to take, working at a job because it was there, staying out late with men we didn’t love, drinking to get drunk because it felt good to melt our thoughts away, and wrestling with superficial self-confidence all the while remaining painfully self-aware.
I may be too close to the action to know whether this book is globally fascinating, or just fascinating to me. But I do know that Margaret Drabble left me wanting more. My only complaint was that the story wasn’t longer. I want to know what happens next to Sarah and her sister. Though I suppose it could be my own answers that I’m after.
Posted November 3, 2008
No text was provided for this review.