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Customer reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars

on 17 August 2017
Really good read.
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on 3 January 2007
Freda Haxby is an eccentric, elderly writer who moves out of the family home to set herself up miles from her children and their families in an old ramshackle establishment on Exmoor. When she meets a suspicious death all their middle class lives come under scrutiny. I do not feel that this is Drabble's best work as the characters do not come alive and as a murder mystery the plot seems rather sparse.
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on 24 April 2003
Disappointing. Drabble the social commentator wins out over Drabble the novelist, in this tale of elderly, eccentric writer Freda Haxby who turns her back on her family and their expectations to live out her days in a crumbling mansion on the coast. The characters are little more than mouthpieces for a broad span of educated, middle-class opinion and like Freda herself, never manage to come alive or engage the reader's sympathies. One leaves them to their fate without a backward glance.
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on 12 December 2012
Witch of Exmoor by Margaret Drabble
Massively over written and nothing much happened in the way of plot .No one in our book club enjoyed it. Earlier Drabble would probably have been better.
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on 3 March 2010
After the first slightly indigestable chapter, the story about Frieda Haxby and her three selfish successful children really gets going. And what a story it is! The story is full of wonderful descriptions of characters and place. The characters are so well drawn that they remain with you. The social commentary is like reading a modern day Charles Dickens and in fact Drabble makes a nod at this herself when comparing Patsy to Mrs Jellerby (a character in Bleak House). The narrator technique takes a little getting used to, but ultimately it works and gives the book a broad cinematic sweep. The passages about Exmoor and the wild and rugged coast where Frieda lives at Ashcombe, are vivid and realistic. I could almost smell the moor, the bracken and the sea. Anyone who knows this part of the world will know that Drabble's description is 100% accurate.

The plot is beautifully controlled and doesn't disappoint. Frieda Haxby's peculiar will - or should I say wills - tests each of her grown-up children to the limit and pushes a couple of her grandchildren 'over the edge' too. The family dynamics are powerful and real. I won't say more as it will spoil it. Look out for that magical passage with brave chaste Emily and the hunted hind towards the end. Lyrical stuff. What does it all mean? I'm not entirely sure, but I loved it.
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on 31 October 2013
This book is one of the most entertaining books I've ever read. Holds a special place in my bookshelf. I think that the bad review hasn't picked up the irony of the story
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on 1 November 2012
`Let them have everything that is pleasant. The windows are open on to the terrace and the lawn, and drooping bunches of wistaria deepen from a washed mauve pink to purple. The roses are in bloom.' With an opening paragraph like this, where else could we be but England?

But we are reading Margaret Drabble, so ye olde English scent of roses soon fades. The people of this novel inhabit the same country that the author outlined in her acclaimed 1980s trilogy: "Not a bad country... just a mean, cold, ugly, divided, tired, clapped out, post-imperial, post-industrial slag-heap covered in polystyrene hamburger cartons".

So though Drabble allows the Palmers - the middle-aged, rational, privileged and selfish family at the centre of this book - to begin with "everything that is pleasant", by the novel's end "the pond" silt up, the lawn is not mown, bindweed embraces the sundial and ground elder ramps around the roots of the wistaria".

The destruction of the Palmers - Daniel and his sisters Rosemary and Gogo - is rooted in their obsession with their mother, Frieda, the eponymous Witch. Frieda Haxby Palmer, writer and capricious free spirit, had, in the opinion of her family, gone mad.

The basis for their concern is that she has moved house: bought a crumbling mansion on the edge of the Exmoor coast, where she intends to write her memoirs and change her will. But Frieda has not been the best of mothers and her children's filial concern is more than a little self-interested.

Thus we have a classic 19th century novel plot of family inheritance given a 20th century outing. But Drabble is no Dickens, and prefers the cerebral to the sentimental. Her acute observations about human psychology and family relationships are a camera through which she captures the swarming throng of contemporary British life and culture.

The Palmers represent Britain's free-market, greedy and selfish present; Benjamin D'Anger - Gogo's son - its multicultural future. And Frieda - daughter of the Fens and the Vikings, who elevated herself by "a genetic freak of talent, intelligence or mother-wit" its past. And the past is a shifting, contradictory, complex mystery: "there were so many versions of the story, and all of them were false".

Ideas are at the heart of this book and a mocking, ironic tone deliberately distances the characters so that, while its comedy hits a bleak, black funnybone, its tragedies leave the reader as unmoved as a news report or a video nasty. Which is, of course, precisely the point.

The book ends on an upbeat note, with the younger generation, represented by Emily (Daniel's daughter) and Benjamin (Gogo's son) embracing life: "on they go and onwards, to the next point and the next. They are young, and on they go."

However, as Emily calls for Benjamin to jump the waves of an incoming tide, an earlier line about Emily and her ill-fated brother, Simon, reverberates in the reader's mind: "only ankle-deep in their lives as yet. Perhaps not even that. But the mud pulls and sucks".

The achievement of this novel is its imaginative hold on the "mud" that is contemporary life.
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on 14 January 2001
To her family Frieda is know to only care for herself and her work. so when Ben goes to stay with her he brings out the light in her that no onwe else has ever seen before. So while her family worries about her will and her house falling into the sea Ben consintrates on seeing the true frieda in her own very special world which is full of talent an daffection. which
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