A NATURAL CURIOSITY by Margaret Drabble
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This is not a political novel. More a pathological novel. A psychotic novel."" Thus the author, in one of various asides scattered through this ""unintended"" sequel to The Radiant Way (1987); it is an altogether slighter effort than that dense, richly textured work, which focused on three women friends and the Thatcherization of England. Of those three women, art-historian Esther Breuer is now out of the picture, away in Italy, while psychotherapist Liz Headeland (divorced from TV producer Charles) is in evidence, but under-occupied. So by default the focus here is on Alix Bowen, and her prison visits to Paul Whitmore, a quiet mass-murderer with a scholarly interest in Roman history. Alix badly needs to solve the riddle of Paul. What formed him? When she tracks down his mother and finds she is ""a fury, a harpy, a gorgon,"" she has her answer, though a rather pat one, as she acknowledges. But at least Alix has something to work with--all Liz and her ex get is busywork. Liz makes a provocative appearance on a TV talk show about sex (1987 will become England's Year of Child Sex Abuse); Charles embarks on a pointless hostage-related trip to the Middle East. Only one character asserts her autonomy and happily surprises both author and reader: Liz's sister, suburban housewife Shirley, finds her husband dead in the garage, a suicide, and bolts, coming to rest in Paris with a total stranger, changed, changed utterly. Drabble's 11th novel is not grounded by an organizing principle, for neither ""curiosity"" nor ""pathology"" will quite cut it. Though it carries less state-of-the-nation baggage than The Radiant Way, it skims over a lot of ground, like a family newsletter; some old characters make brief reappearances; new characters lack the space to take root; at times Drabble seems impatient with her own creation (""you do not have to retain these names, these relationships""). A dishevelled work, then, but from an author whose own humanist curiosity is as appealing as ever.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Viking