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Posted July 24, 2003
Something destructive has happened to noble England, Margaret Drabble enlightens us, thus setting the table, in the two epigraphs that open 'The Ice Age.' 'There was no one common cause for all these terrible things.' (page 15) Sure enough, the novel's main character finds himself enmeshed in an apocalyptic tale. 'It was as though he had strayed into some charged field, where death and disaster became commonplace.' (page 22) I genuflect to English Literature's concern for values, and I no less feel that reverence toward this very fine novel. We must look to the plot for what has gone wrong with England. Anthony Keating, the main character, is a typical middle-class man of British society. He grows up with all of the traditional expectations of an energetic, intelligent man. He finds his fate in college by eventually pairing up with a wealthy property developer, Giles Peters, despite his high level of idealism. He is seduced by a materialist lifestyle. Anthony is thus a representative of 'economic' England. He marries Barbara Cockburn and has four children, but 'Babs' is an unfaithful type. He later meets a more agreeable woman, Alison Murray, who has two children from a prior marriage. Although Anthony's two brothers have prospered, Anthony experiences trouble both physically and financially. He has a heart attack, which forces him to take life easy at his country home. The company, Imperial Delight Company, formed with Giles, Rory, and himself, which he thought would make him wealthy and happy, goes bust. After buying a house in the country, High Rook House, Anthony has found time to reflect on the meaning of his life. Why does he feel a spiritual void? Anthony exhibits sound thinking and soul-searching and ultimately decides that Man must think about the nature of God and the possibility of religious faith. Alison's sensible and loving nature is a helpful complement to Anthony while they are together at High Rook House. Len Wincobank, a business associate whom Anthony admires, languishes in prison for fraud he has committed. Alison's daughter, Jane, who has travelled to Wallacia, a communist, East European country, is arrested and charged with hit-and-run. Alison visits with her and returns while she is still awaiting trial. When Anthony goes, however, at the urging of Humphrey Clegg, a Minister, he fails, through a mishap, to leave the country with Jane. He winds up in prison serving a six-year sentence for espionage. This is a disturbing irony. Ms. Drabble analyzes the sinister economic conditions that have brought Britain's problems in. Materialism has had a negative impact on people's lives. The economy and materialism are unpredictable forces to the individual, who relies exclusively on them. Finances hold anxiety. Therefore, men like Anthony live with disillusionment. Materialism requires a value system in order to comprehend and cope with daily life. Yet, society has thrown away its cherished values. It is no surprise, then, that Anthony says, 'I have learned nothing.' The sense of values in life can mean the difference between the rootlessness of Tim, an out-of-work actor, and Kitty Friedmann's well-knit family. Anthony achieves the realization that faith is necessary to Man, but by then he is a doomed man. The hope of the coming generations, in the novel, is undermined by this atmosphere of materialistic difficulty. 'Would they survive? How could one tell?' The only way out of this predicament is for people to give spiritual, i.e. ethical, values a higher priority in their community planning. Man needs God in life. Six years in prison is not a dignified destiny for Man. Ms. Drabble is absolutely lucid about Anthony Keating's remarkable potential as a Good Man. However, as a dying breed (of the old order), he cannot be certain that the next generation will choose honorable paths that will exalt Britain's diminished destiny. Let'Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.