What it's like for illusion to leave an entire people--and in the doing, Drabble gives us the real thing here: a social novel thick with the common changes, failures, and interferences of modern citizenship. The ""ice age"" that has indeed fallen on Britain chills less the hearts than the emotional musculature of this book's characters: suddenly they have less flexibility. Anthony Keating, a former BBC producer who once believed with the rest of his class that ""there was something not very nice about money,"" about-faces during the economic go-go years of the Sixties and enters real-estate speculation only to be caught up short by the current British atmosphere of ""alarm, panic, and despondency."" Now his business partners barely hang on to solvency, his financial guru is in jail for fraud, and all that remains to Anthony is High Rook House, a Yorkshire redoubt purchased just before the wilt. That--and his relationship with Alison Murray, an exactress who, with one daughter imprisoned in an Albania-like Eastern European state and another mentally retarded and institutionalized, believes only in the destiny of Character: ""There is no such thing as an accident."" Shrewdly, barely perceptibly, Drabble lets these two testify to the prevailing asymmetry of the British will. Anthony, recovering from a heart attack, ""was going to have to decide what to do with his life""--he's increasingly lost. When asked to rescue Alison's daughter from imprisonment, it's a mission gladly undertaken: Anthony as Empire, shaking off setback, intervening once more. But Alison falls back more and more on the personal, a responsibility ""beyond imagining."" That Drabble's rich textures and great sympathy muffle the political echoes she perhaps wished to bounce, that her characters are too much alike ever really to clash--these are little as compared to the impressive achievement of a book made all of disturbing, resonant, powerful depths.