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This review is taken from PN Review 54, Volume 13 Number 4, March - April 1987.

BAD MYTHOLOGY Eva Figes, The Seven Ages (Hamish Hamilton), £9.95

A midwife retires to the village in which she spent her childhood. As the seasons pass, voices and images come to her from a past far beyond her lifespan, and interweave with her own memories into an alternative history, a collective account of and by women that centres on the pains and labours of childbirth: a story that takes us from the Middle Ages through the Reformation, the Civil War, the age of enclosure and improvement, the coming of the railway and the growth of commerce, the pioneering struggles for birth control and women's suffrage, and the Second World War. The story often returns to the present, to the ex-midwife's relationship with her daughters - one a doctor, the other bringing up her children on her own, as her mother had done - and looks, finally, to an uncertain future, as the old woman gives her support to the peace camp at the missile site near the village.

An ambitious novel, then; but its reach far exceeds its grasp. There are problems in three main areas: style, narrative, and mythology - allowing that word both its positive and negative connotations. At its best, Figes's style calls on rhythm, alliteration and assonance to evoke changing seasons, evanescent moments; it falls like incantation on the ear:


Small insects flit in the fading light before they too are swallowed up in the gathering gloom to become no more than a light touch on the skin, a ...


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