Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Summer Bird-Cage, by Margaret Drabble. Popular Library, 1962

Written in 1962, this book takes us back to the beginning of the era when women were starting to push back against the assumption that, even if they went to college, they would marry and have kids right after. Sarah, our narrator, is a bit surprised that her older sister, the stunningly beautiful Louise, is not just marrying, but marrying Stephen, a writer who is distinctly odd. The sisters have never been close, so Sarah has no idea why Louise might be marrying who she does. Stephen, an author of very literary books, does have money, but even that doesn’t seem to make it all make sense. Sarah doesn’t give it too much attention, though; she’s having her own crisis of trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life now that she’s graduated. Nothing really interests her. She might like to write a humorous novel, a la Kingsley Amis, but no idea how to go about it. She might wed but the man she might want to marry is studying in America. So she works at a job that she doesn’t respect. Louise’s situation catches her attention when Sarah discovers that Louise has been having an affair with John both before and after her wedding.

This is a novel that is about women in the state of dissatisfaction. Sarah is dissatisfied with her business and personal life. Louise is dissatisfied with her husband and with her lover. Their mother is dissatisfied with her own life and with theirs. Sarah’s friend has just left her husband, an ultimate dissatisfaction. The men seem much happier with their lives, although we don’t really get to see that much of them. It’s interesting to note that all the dilemmas the women face are one’s that women today still face; there was a shift in the early 60s when many more women decided to have more of a life than being married and having children but there hasn’t been much change since then. I’m not sure there could be any more change; women (and men) must still face the existential question of what to do with their lives, and no matter what one does they will be missing out on something else. Although written fifty years ago, this book is a bit dated but still pertinent. 

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