Dame Margaret Drabble CBE

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Photograph: Ruth Corney



Dame Margaret Drabble was born in Sheffield in 1939 and was educated at Newnham College, Cambridge. She is the author of eighteen novels including A Summer Bird-Cage, The Millstone, The Peppered Moth, The Red Queen, The Sea Lady and most recently, the highly acclaimed The Pure Gold Baby. She has also written biographies, screenplays and was the editor of the Oxford Companion to English Literature. She was appointed CBE in 1980, and made DBE in the 2008 Honours list. She was also awarded the 2011 Golden PEN Award for a Lifetime’s Distinguished Service to Literature. She is married to the biographer Michael Holroyd and lives in London and Somerset.

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Francesca Stubbs holds our hand as we take a walk through death and old age. Fran takes us to drinks with her dear friends, dropping off mouth-watering suppers for Claude, her ex-husband, warm and cosy in his infirmity, and visits her daughter, Poppet, holed up as the waters rise in a sodden West Country, as well as texting her son Christopher in Tenerife, dealing with the estate of his shockingly deceased girlfriend.

The questions of what constitutes a good death and how we understand it if we have lived well preoccupy this dark and glittering novel. With characteristic wit and caustic prose via some festive red merlot, The Dark Flood Rises dazzles and enthrals, entertains and asks existential questions in equal measure.


"Shrewd and timely - the best novel I've read in ages. Ferociously well written, and hugely entertaining" Sarah Waters

"Masterly" New York Times, (100 Notable Books of 2017)

"An absolute tour de force" Linda Grant Guardian, (Best Books of the Year)

"Erudite, beautifully written, funny, tragic" Daily Mail

"Darkly witty and exhilarating" The Times

"With its echoes of Simone de Beauvoir and Samuel Beckett, this quiet meditation an old age seethes with apocalyptic intent . . . Brilliant" Guardian

"Masterly, poignant and uplifting" Mail on Sunday

"Drabble has pulled off a quietly revolutionary portrait of an age-group whose lives are just as urgent as anyone's but are rarely considered *****" Sunday Telegraph

"Ageing and dying in style . . . Margaret Drabble's sharply drawn characters look back on lives lived and forwards to achieving a good death" Observer

"Uplifting . . . Profound . . . Unforgettable . . . At its heart is the enormous question, how do we know if we've had a good life? " Sunday Telegraph



“The Pure Gold Baby is an unexpected gift from a great author. How do we treat the child who walks among us in a different way than most? In Margaret Drabble's hands the answer is with a depth of empathy few master. Fortunately for us, Drabble has spent a lifetime doing just that in exquisitely written prose” Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones

“Extraordinary and intriguing” Sadie Jones, author of The Outcast

"Margaret Drabble, a master of the quiet novel, has spent half a century crafting sentences and finely measured paragraphs that give back the pleasure of a particular kind of spoken English – reserved and self-deprecating, sliced through with social acuity and knowingness." Financial Times

“Drabble richly recreates that place and that environment [1960's North London] . . .  Contained in the story, in fact, is a history of ideas about the mentally disturbed and the treatment of them. This is a tough assignment, and Drabble's brilliance appears here . . . while it reads very easily and seductively as a naturalistic novel, it slowly builds up a sense of wide horizons that one has never seen in quite the same way before” The Times

“Achingly wise ... gentled by compassion (admirers of Marilynne Robinson will find themselves very much at home in this book)." Wall Street Journal

“Avoiding melodrama, tragedy and sentiment, Drabble crafts Anna and Jess’s lives into a narrative that is both involving and unexpectedly rich. The end result is a magnificent novel that confirms Drabble’s status as a national treasure.” Daily Mail

“The tone is relaxed, even chatty, narrative mixed with reflection and observations on changes in manners and moral . . . What it offers, convincingly, interestingly, and often charmingly, is a picture of a changing world . . . Margaret Drabble has written a novel in which she has resisted the temptation to form it into a pleasing work of art, instead offering a picture of life as one thing after another. Yet it is a version of a good life that she very winningly offers us, a life irradiated by kindness” Scotsman

“Clear-eyed shrewdness, provocative intelligence and an insight into character underlined by a kind of anthropological dispassion ... a unique and profoundly stirring book.” Observer

‘A jigsaw; its ambitious themes of parenthood, innocence, wounded children, anthropology, literature, madness, ageing, illness and love juxtaposed’ Jane Shilling, Daily Telegraph

“Compelling...The Pure Gold Baby is an intelligent book about the way we interpret our inner lives.” Sunday Times

“In 2009, Dame Margaret Drabble said that she would not write fiction again. Thankfully, that has not come to pass and her first novel in almost a decade demonstrates why it would have been such a loss. [Drabble’s] prose is graceful and flowing and Eleanor is an articulate and engaging narrator ... a moving testament to love, loyalty, and friendships between women. A poignant but ultimately uplifting tale.” Independent on Sunday

“A narrative that consistently prods at the idea of how we know what it is that we are seeing . . . Characters, plotlines and themes swirl and proliferate” Guardian

“This new novel by a tireless chronicler of our times returns to key Drabble themes, her voice as strong and shrewd as ever” Independent

“A moving and meditative novel… Drabble is so good at creating the whole, non-linear picture of life. The Pure Gold Baby is original and ultimately really affecting. I found a kind of somber bravery in the story of this unwavering, intelligent woman and her guileless and beautiful child. I'm so glad that Margaret Drabble, like her characters, just decided to keep on going.” Meg Wolitzer, NPR

“The book succeeds as both a social critique and a sensitive view of the agonies and joys of raising disabled children... Insightful and wise, The Pure Gold Baby chronicles the deep challenges of parenting under any circumstances – yet it also captures the almost unbearable vulnerability of being human.”  Boston Globe

“In Margaret Drabble's superb new novel, a richly complex narrative voice achieves a choric magnificence hardly equalled in her earlier work. The Pure Gold Baby considers, with saturnalian humour and elegiac sorrow, how far the author's generation has come." Independent on Sunday

“The Pure Gold Baby is a closely observed group portrait of female friends, a patient insight into the joys and pains of motherhood and an image of how society has changed and how it has not” Harper’s Magazine

“A novel that consistently resists readers’ simplest assumptions. [Drabble’s] distinctive narrative voice and soaring prose remain electrifying.” Spectator

The Pure Gold Baby is as deep as it is wide: resonant, recursive and contemplative.” Kansas City Star

"This is an intimate look at a small family and its circle, told with wit, sensitivity, and deft knowledge of the household details of its setting. Drabble, the distinguished author of more than two dozen novels (e.g., The Radiant Way; The Seven Sisters) and works of nonfiction (The Oxford Companion to English Literature), is a masterly storyteller and a preeminent chronicler of modern life...Readers who yearn for well-crafted fiction full of thoughtful ideas and observations should welcome this heartily." Library Journal, Starred Review

“Written with compassion and bathed in a poignant glow” Stylist Magazine

“Drabble (A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman, 2011, etc.) enfolds the moving personal story of a single mother’s care for her mentally disabled daughter within a somber narrative of aging families and declining social optimism…The Victorian explorer David Livingstone, William Wordsworth’s poetry, Auguste Rodin’s sculpture and Marcel Proust’s novels all play a part in Drabble’s deeply intellectual, though never pretentious consideration of our intricate connections and obligations to others. Thoughtful and provocative, written with the author’s customary intelligence and quiet passion.” Kirkus

“Drabble is in peak form in this marvelously dexterous, tartly funny, and commanding novel of moral failings and women’s quandaries, brilliantly infusing penetrating social critique with stinging irony as she considers what life makes of us and what we make of life ... Given Drabble’s standing as one of the giants of world literature, elevated attention will be paid to her first novel since The Sea Lady (2007).” Booklist, Starred Review

“Having announced in 2009 that she would stop writing fiction for fear of repeating herself, Drabble has, thankfully, had a change of heart. Here she offers a wrenching but clear-eyed look at the responsibilities of motherhood. Pregnant owing to an affair with a married professor, graduate student Jessica Speight gives birth to golden, glowy Anna. It soon becomes apparent that Anna will never be a normal child, and both character and reader must adjust to a different understanding of parenting.” Library Journal, "Barbara's Picks" Pre-Pub Alert

"Margaret Drabble has written a compelling portrait of a mother whose care for her disabled child unfolds against a world of shifting mores.  This is a panoramic survey of the way social attitudes toward difference have shifted -- of what has been gained and of what has been lost.  It is above all a humbling portrait of time, a stern reminder that what we know to be true today may well be untrue tomorrow.  It is written with acuity, wisdom, and grace." Andrew Solomon, author of Far From the Tree

“The trick to reading the novel is to go with the flow as Drabble does, gliding into each event, laced with her dry, witty snaps of changing times of what was in the 1950s-'60s and what is now” Sydney Morning Herald

“Margaret Drabble's new novel radiates the kind of intelligent ability, breadth and wry insight that comes with a lifetime's practice of thinking and writing. Reading it as relaxingly satisfying as sinking into luxury upholstery” Book Oxygen

“Drabble's insightful characterisation and beautifully written prose make this a deeply absorbing read” The Gazette

“A contemplative, moving and compelling portrait of a fiercely devoted mother and her symbolic "pure gold" daughter” The Leader

“Drabble's voice is both commanding and conversational” Sunday Herald

“Un récit tout à la fois réaliste et cerebral, subrepticement captivant, que ne vient ponctuer aucune morale” Nathalie Crom, Télérama

“Un hymne aux femmes libérées des annés 1960 et un livre formidablement optimiste” Christophe Mercier, Le Figaro littéraire




“Fourteen stories published over four decades offer an agreeable supplement to the distinguished British novelist's full-length fiction ... Drabble's fans will savor these bite-sized examples of her humane intelligence.” Kirkus reviews

“Consistently skilful and engaging ... both personal and resonantly profound, so that the emotional impact of the whole book is much greater than the sum of its parts.” Guardian

“The stories offer a crash course in the acerbic delights of writer who, like a character in one of her stories, has spent “anxious and enjoyable hours trying todisentangle and isolate her various emotions, and to assess their respective values.” Telegraph

“Her short stories glimmer with the irony, lyricism, moral vision and amplitude we associate with Drabble’s novels.” The New York Times

"They are even better than one might have hoped." Telegraph



“An unusual, engaging and yet tantalising memoir." The Times

“Refreshingly down-to-earth...A fascinating discussion about the moral and social status of jigsaws...In mounting a gentle but firm interrogation into such matters, The Pattern in the Carpet turns out to be full not so much of last things as late things – a mature overview of a lifetime spent fitting objects together in various ways before breaking them up and beginning all over again.” Kathryn Hughes, Guardian

"The pleasure of this book is in enjoying Drabble’s company. In her discreet and elegant way, she has assembled a puzzle from her own life and invited us to share some quiet moments on the solution" Sophie Ward, The Spectator


Publication DetailsNotes


Anna is a child of special, unknowable qualities. She is a happy child, always willing to smile at the world around her. But she also presents profound challenges. For her mother Jess, still in her early twenties, living alone in North London and hoping to embark on an adventurous career, her arrival will prove life-transforming.

Over the course of decades, in ways large and small, Anna will affect the lives and loves of those around her. While Anna herself will remain largely unaltered by the passing years, she will live through a period of dramatic change, her journey illuminating our shifting attitudes towards motherhood, responsibility and the way we care for one another.

Both personal and political, The Pure Gold Baby is a remarkable portrait of a family, a friendship, and a neighbourhood.It is a novel of great beauty, wisdom and stealthy power by one of our country's foremost and acclaimed writers.



This collection shows Margaret Drabble to be a leading practitioner of the art of the short story, presenting her complete short fiction for the first time in a single volume, spanning four decades, from 1964 to 2000. Several of the stories, like The Dower House at Kellynch, are set in Somerset and Dorset and reflect their author's intimate knowledge of the land and flora there, but their settings also range as far as Elba and Cappadocia. Taken as a whole, the stories reflect the social changes of the past forty years, by showing the English at home and abroad. In 'The Gifts of War', peace-protesting students clash with a mother buying a toy for her son, with tragic consequences. An Englishman on honeymoon has a brief but significant epiphany, finding a shared humanity with a Moroccan crowd in 'Hassan's Tower'. Their protagonists are men and women, husbands and lovers, television presenters and housewives, all subtly and precisely captured as products of their time and place. In his introduction, Spanish scholar José Francisco Fernández celebrates the 'pure and simple pleasure to be found in reading these survivalist, questioning, belligerently intense short stories'.



Humphrey and Ailsa meet as children by a grey, northern sea. Humphrey is quiet, serious and will in time explore the sea's mysteries; Ailsa is angry, a freckled cobra ready to strike. Yet they fascinate one another and when they meet again years later they fall briefly and disastrously in love. Half a lifetime passes before Humphrey and Ailsa's paths finally re-cross. What will each make of their past? And of the future? THE SEA LADY tells the story of first and last love, of evolution and the ebb and flow of time that gives shape to our lives.



Two hundred years after being plucked from obscurity to marry the Crown Prince of Korea, the Red Queen's ghost decides to set the record straight about her extraordinary existence and Dr Babs Halliwell, with her own complicated past, is the perfect envoy. Why does the Red Queen pick Babs to keep her story alive, and what else does she want from her? Set in 18th century Korea and the present day, THE RED QUEEN is a rich and atmospheric novel about love, and what it means to be remembered.



When Candida Wilton arrives alone in London, divorced and rejected and without much money, she is filled with a strange sense of excitement. What can happen, at her age, to change her fortunes? How will she adjust to this shabby, violent, yet curiously attractive city? When Candida starts writing her diary, she expects that she will fill it with the small events with which she pads out her empty life, but she has always had a secret belief that despite all she is a lucky person. And she is, in a sense, right, for when an unexpected windfall brings her sudden riches, her horizons broaden: she will start, she thinks, with a trip abroad...



It is 1905, and Bessie is a small child living in a South Yorkshire mining town. Unusually gifted, she sits quietly and studies hard, waiting for the day when she can sit the Cambridge entrance exam and escape the way of life her ancestors have never even thought to question. At the other end of the century her granddaughter, Faro, is listening to a lecture on genetic inheritance. She has returned to the town where her grandmother grew up and sees the families who have lived there for longer than anyone can remember. But for all her exotic ancestry and glamour, has she really travelled any further than them?



Freda Haxby is as famous for her writing as she is for her eccentricities. But for Daniel Palmer, Rosemary, Grace and their families, she is a monster mother. This is the story of an end-of-the-century family whose comfortable lives are disrupted by a succession of sinister events.



Two years ago novelist Stephen Cox vanished to the east. There had been postcards, then silence: now Liz has received this strange parcel of jottings, bills, pictures and human bones. Enlisting the help of another of his friends, beautiful, unrestrained Hattie Osbourne, Liz begins to decipher the parcel by retracing Stephen's journey from the safety of England to the chaos and corruption of Southeast Asia...



Liz, Alix and Esther are old friends whose lives continue to cross and uncross. As the years pass, they are more than ever disposed to question, to re-evaluate, to examine their motives and directions in the brutally prosperous, atrocity-hungry society of Britain.


Publication DetailsNotes


A deeply personal book on the jigsaw puzzle and the part it plays in the puzzle of its distinguished author's life. It is a mix of memoir, jigsaw history and the strange delights of puzzling. James Boswell described the 'innocent soothing relief from melancholy' of playing draughts, and Margaret Drabble - among countless others - has found a similar solace from assembling jigsaws. In THE PATTERN IN THE CARPET, she describes the history of this uniquely British form of meditation, from its earliest incarnation as a dissected map, used as a teaching tool in the late eighteenth century, to the other cut-outs and mosaics that have amused children and adults from Roman times until today. The resulting book is an original and moving personal history about ageing and the authenticity of memory; about the importance of childhood play; and, how we rearrange objects into new patterns to make sense of our past and ornament our present.



Based on the text of Margaret Drabble's 1995 edition, this sixth edition has been completely reworked and expanded. There are nearly 600 entirely new entries to reflect the new figures and issues of English Literature in the new millennium, and the existing entries have been extensively revised and updated to incorporate the latest scholarship. But this new edition remains faithful to Sir Paul Harvey's original vision of an authoritative work placing English literature from the Classical world, Europe, Latin America, and beyond. In addition to the extensive coverage of writers, works, literary theory, allusions, and characters, there are sixteen featured essay-style entries on key topics including black British literature, fantasy fiction, and modernism.



This biography of Sir Angus Wilson traces his early years as a librarian at the British Library, interrupted by a grim spell in the code-breaking huts at Bletchley Park, before his rise as novelist, critic, lecturer and man of letters following the publication of his first volume of stories, "The Wrong Set", in 1949. It also describes the range of contacts he made and maintained around the fixed point of his relationship with his friend and companion of forty years, Tony Garrett, and his role as an influence and mentor for a younger generation of writers.


The Middle Ground Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1980
A Writer’s Britain: Landscape in Literature Thames & Hudson, 1979
For Queen and Country: Britain in the Victorian Age André Deutsch, 1978
The Ice Age Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1977
The Genius of Thomas Hardy (editor) Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1976
New Stories 1: An Anthology (co—editor with Charles Osborne) Arts Council of Great Britain, 1976
The Realms of Gold Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1975
Arnold Bennett: A Biography Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1974
The Needle’s Eye Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1972
The Waterfall Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1969
Jerusalem the Golden Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1967
Wordsworth (Literature in Perspective Series) Evans Brothers, 1966
The Millstone Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1965
The Garrick Year Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1964
A Summer Birdcage Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1963