Notes from underground

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The witch of Exmoor: book review

The Witch Of ExmoorThe Witch Of Exmoor by Margaret Drabble

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We rejoined the City of Tshwane library, and I saw a bock by Margaret Drabble, and as
she was one of the editors of The Oxford Concise Companion to English Literature, which I bought 15 years ago and refer to frequently, I thought I had better read something written by her as well.

By the end of the first chapter, I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue reading it, because it was all about ordinary people doing ordinary things. Ordinary middle-class people, that is. Actually fairly rich upper middle-class English people, that is, though one character had roots in Guyana.

It’s about three siblings, their spouses and children, who have gathered to discuss their concerns about their mother, who has sold the house they grew up in and gone to live alone in a large and lonely house on Exmoor, the kind estate agents describe as “has potential” because it’s in poor repair. Her children think she is crazy, but can’t be bothered to go and see how she is getting on, because it’s too far and too much trouble.

I thought that if I was going to be looking into the lives of ordinary people, I’d prefer to be doing family history research, because at least the people I’d be investigating were real people, rather than the product of some author’s imagination. When I read fiction, I don’t mind if the characters are ordinary, as long as extraordinary things are happening to them, but the things that were happening to this family seemed like very ordinary things. A sort of suburban Waiting for Godot. Banal thoughts, banal conversations, rather dull people. The only exciting thing is a children’s game.

I don’t much like reading about extraordinary people (Superman, Spiderman, He Man and the like). But I do like reading about ordinary people having extraordinary adventures. But the characters in the book didn’t seem to be having extraordinary experiences — at least for the first 150 pages.

Then mysterious things begin happening that rattle the comfortable birdcages, and their lives will never be the same again. To say too much about what happens would be a spoiler for those who haven’t read it, and there are no Jack and the Beanstalk fantasy adventures. Everything that happens could happen in the everyday world, but they have a quality of being extraordinary nonetheless, and are as unpredictable to the reader as they are to the characters, except right at the end.

So I found the book more interested and enthralling as it went on, and well worth reading.

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