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This review is taken from PN Review 61, Volume 14 Number 5, May - June 1988.

NORTH/SOUTH EAST/WEST Margaret Drabble, The Radiant Way (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) £10.95
Patrick Besson, Dara, translated by Nicole Irving (Hamish Hamilton) £10.95

In 'How To Be A Poet' Dylan Thomas notes that 'the novel to write is that which commands a steady, unsensational, provincial and suburban sale and concerns, for choice, the birth, education, financial ups-and-downs, marriage, separation and deaths of five generations of a family of Lancashire cotton-brokers'. Margaret Drabble is less far-reaching and, in The Radiant Way, follows the vicissitudes of three friends, Liz, Alix and Esther, as they move from childhood, through Cambridge, to a career. It may be her answer to Mary McCarthy's The Group - a personal examination of emancipated intellectual life from the woman's point of view.

The novel starts well. Liz is giving a New Year's Party to fête the arrival of the 1980s and the more important characters are introduced with irony and a little condescension. The narrative shock which concludes these festivities is well prepared - indeed the opening section is almost a short story on its own - and the reader settles down to find out more about the three women, their partners past and present, their children and the way they lead their lives.

Gradually, however, the book loses direction. Whereas Esther, the eccentric, is enjoyably drawn as she devotes herself to a life of exploratory hedonism, the other two women become more and more pallidly interchangeable. The members of the next generation never really get going - Aaron, for example, Liz's stepson, introduced rather dramatically as a Hamlet-figure, vanishes almost entirely from the scene.

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