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THE WITCH OF EXMOOR by Margaret Drabble

THE WITCH OF EXMOOR

By Margaret Drabble

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-15-100363-7
Publisher: Harcourt

 A startling, mordantly funny portrait of contemporary Britain, and Drabble's (The Gates of Ivory, 1992, etc.) best and most assured novel in years. At the heart of the action is Frieda Palmer, the increasingly eccentric matriarch of an eminently successful family. Frieda has gained fame for her eloquent, prophetic works on feminism (including The Matriarchy of War); her children are also variously successful: Gogo is a much-in-demand neurologist, married to an up- and-coming liberal politician; Rosemary is an influential figure in arts funding; and Daniel is a quietly accomplished barrister. The three, their spouses, and their children have gathered, as the story begins, to discuss what, if anything, can be done with their intemperate mother. She has recently engaged in a buffoonish battle with the government over taxes. And she has sold the family house, and bought a rambling, shabby hotel in Exmoor, on a cliff above the sea, where she lives alone. What will she do next? What of their reputations? And what of their inheritance? Their efforts to somehow assert control over Frieda's life eventually draw in their own children (including the free-spirited Emily, Daniel's daughter, and the brilliant, somber young Ben, Gogo's son) and set in motion a variety of subplots revealing the quiet hypocrisies at the heart of many of these lives and offering, in the person of Frieda, one of the more complex and original of Drabble's creations. A zestful, angry figure, fighting age, and struggling to come to terms with the horrific secret concerning her own marriage that she has long suppressed, Frieda, often fierce, arouses exasperation and affection in equal measure. This droll riff on King Lear manages to be both an intriguing portrait of a difficult woman and a sustained lampoon on the self-absorbed, righteous behavior of the British elite, related in prose of sustained vigor. Satire and melodrama, nicely mixed, and a thoroughly satisfying entertainment.