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The Sea Lady Paperback – 2 Aug 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (2 Aug. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141027452
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141027456
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 212,851 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


A pleasure to read . . . utterly engrossing (Guardian)

'The Sea Lady proves [Drabble] remains one of the most thought-provoking and intellectually challenging writers around.' FT magazine

Drabble excels at describing the minute detail of human behaviour.The Sea Lady is a potent tribute to lost dreams and harsh realities. (The Independent)

An intelligent, full-bodied, big-hearted book (Daily Mail)

About the Author

Margaret Drabble was born in Sheffield in 1939 and educated at Cambridge. She was awarded a CBE in 1980. Her many novels include The Radiant Way (1987), A Natural Curiosity (1989), The Gates of Ivory (1991), The Peppered Moth (2000), The Seven Sisters (2002) and The Red Queen (2004) all of which are published by Penguin. Margaret Drabble is married to the biographer Michael Holroyd and lives in London.

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Schwartz on 17 Oct. 2007
Format: Paperback
For some reason I seem lately to have been reading several novels about aging, depressed, and lonely academics or members of the media or arts community--E.g. Shroud, by Banville; Amsterdam by McEwan, and A Foreign Affair by Lurie, among others. The Sea Lady is another and one of the best of this flourishing genre. As in The Sea Lady the protagonists seem always to be highly successful (unlike most of us real aging academics reading or writing amazon reviews), very depressed about their miserable lives (but it's not always clear why and sometimes seems self-indulgent), are divorced or in any case alone and lonely (but many of us real retired academics are still married, with rafts of grand children), and are almost obsessively self-involved (aren't we all? Or perhaps I should just speak for myself here).

The Sea Lady is the compressed life story of several children who meet one or two summers shortly after World War II on the seashore of England near the border with Scotland on the North Sea. Two, Ailsa and Humphrey, meet later in life, fall in love and marry, divorce, etc. Then meet again in their sixties, etc., etc. All the children turn out to be famous or wealthy as adults; all are successful, miserable, lonely, aging or aged now in 2006 (the story is told seamlessly with flashbacks). Drabble is a fine writer with a sensitive simple style that is very similar to Ian McEwan's but without the twisted, dark tones of McEwan. Although nothing happens in the novel, there is no violence, little lurid sex, or anything else of moment, I found it gripping and enjoyable. This is life, a mirror for us aging academics. Even if we're not successful or miserable and lonely there is much in this novel that illuminates and perhaps quiets our own demons.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Wynne Kelly TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 16 Sept. 2007
Format: Paperback
Humphrey Clark and Ailsa Kelman met briefly as children in north-east England. They later meet up as lovers and embark on a short unfortunate marriage. Both have gone on to eke out very different careers. Ailsa has made a name for herself through her academic work on feminism and then through media appearances. She scandalized people by putatively wearing a foetus as a pendant. Humphrey has had a fairly successful career as a marine biologist albeit not without disappointments. At the Green Grotto (in the white elephant at Greenwich) which he had a part in setting up is a robotic mermaid who moves in and out of the water. His embarrassment at this as he escorts his grandson is almost tangible.

Their stories unfold as they travel back to Ornemouth fifty years later to receive honorary doctorates at one of the country's newer universities.

The book is a wonderful evocation of childhood at the seaside as well as the anxieties and uncertainties of ageing. There are constant references to sea life and marine biology (Ailsa's name, her mermaid-like dress, their journey compared to salmon coming home to spawn)

A grown-up book for grown-ups!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By C. O'Brien VINE VOICE on 9 Aug. 2007
Format: Paperback
Margaret Drabble's latest novel chronicles a journey - or rather two journeys which are set to converge, with surprising results. Briefly and unsuccessfully married thirty years before, ageing experts Ailsa Kelman and Humphrey Clark are making separate trips north to a provincial town where they are both to receive honorary degrees. Although they appear to come from quite different worlds - Ailsa the wildly controversial academic and feminist pundit, Humphrey the quietly distinguished marine biologist - they once shared an emotional language which both have now almost forgotten how to speak.

As they make their separate pilgrimages towards the scene of a first idyllic childhood summer, Drabble takes us back through time to revisit each reminiscence and regret, chronicling the progress of the couple's strangely unfulfilled relationship. She is excellent when evoking memory, and every detail - from the "tarry masculine seafaring smell of creosote" to the "heathery blend of colours" on a tweedy aunt's sensible suit - evokes a vanished English world with aching veracity.

Drabble links personality with myth throughout the novel, in almost overwhelming fashion. Sea Lady Ailsa, named after an island in the Firth of Clyde, is first revealed dressed in "silver sequinned scales", and the ageing Humphrey recalls how salmon return to the spawning grounds - "the source" - at the end of their lives. Ailsa's life has been glamorous but ultimately lonely, like that of the animatronic mermaid Humphrey watches mechanically circling a grotto pool in a civic aquarium.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By M. Fahrenfort on 23 July 2010
Format: Paperback
It happens very seldom when I finish a book that I find myself violently jealous of the writer, because I would so much have liked to write the book myself. But Margaret Drabble manages this feat over and over again. We are about the same age, and the protagonists in her novels keep up with this age range, making this easier of course.

This book depicts the regret one feels for lost opportunities and lost love, but also the diffidence which made us lose these in the first place. Although I agree with one of the critics on Amazon who wrote an unfavourable comment about the figure of the orator, it does not really harm because it provides the possibility of redemption - a possibility I for one am going to take. I shall send this book to a lover I have not seen in 40 years and risk a meeting; something I would never have dreamed of doing before reading this book.
In other words, I'll be my own orator. Not many ever had a clear and factual impact on what I do in my life, but this has succeeded.
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