Margaret Drabble

When I’m browsing through a bookstore, like many readers,  it won’t take me long to decide whether I want to read a book. If I’m not drawn in by the opening I’ll put it down and move on to another book. After all, there is so much to read and time is precious.

In writing this post on Margaret Drabble I was intrigued by the openings of her novels and wondered what it was about them that captivated me so. Was it the clean and simple language? Her often short sentences? Her promises of a journey into  love, fate, mystery, grief, romance and depth as seen in these openings:

The Waterfall: If I were drowning I couldn’t reach out a hand to save myself, so unwilling am I to set myself up against fate.

The Millstone: My career has always been marked by a strange mixture of confidence and cowardice: almost one might say made by it.  Take for instance, the first time I tried spending a night with a man in a hotel.

A Summer Bird-Cage: I had to come home from my sister’s wedding. Home is a house in Warwickshire, and where I was coming from was Paris.

The Red Queen: When I was a little girl, I pined for a red silk shirt. I do not remember all the emotions of my childhood, but I remember this childish longing well.

The Pure Gold Baby: What she felt for those children, as she was to realize later, was a proleptic tenderness. When she saw their little bare bodies, their proud brown belly buttons, the flies clustering around their runny noses, their big eyes, their strangely fused and forked toes, she felt a simple sympathy. Where others might have felt pity or sorrow, she felt a kind of joy, an inexplicable joy. Was this a premonition, and inoculation against grief and love to come?

Proleptic? had to look it up: The noun form is prolepsis and means describing an event as taking place before it could have done so, the treating of a future event as if it had already happened. (New World Dictionary).

The Needle’s Eye: He stood there and waited. He was good at that. There was no hurry. There was plenty of time. He always had time. He was a punctual and polite person, and that was why he was standing there, buying a gift for his hostess. Politeness was an emotion – could one call it an emotion he wondered?  That was how he regarded it, certainly –an emotion that he both feared and understood.

Margaret Drabble was named the Dame of the British Empire in 2008 for her contribution to contemporary English literature. Here’s where I guess she  wrote these delightful openings. 

Writers' rooms: Margaret Drabble

Photographer: Eamonn McCabe

Two of her quotes on writing:

What really annoys me are the ones who write to say, I am doing your book for my final examinations and could you please tell me what the meaning of it is. I find it just so staggering–that you’re supposed to explain the meaning of your book to some total stranger! If I knew what the meanings of my books were, I wouldn’t have bothered to write them.

I’ve often worried about this—that if one got really very happy in life, one might not want to write at all. I think grief is creative. And, in some awful way, boredom is creative. When I’m really deeply bored (inevitably I’m rather miserable at the same time) I find this a creative phase because one’s got to get something. One’s got to rise out of it in some way. And the way that I’m most familiar with is by writing. Paris Review

 What do you think about her openings? Any other thoughts? 

38 thoughts on “Margaret Drabble

  1. What interesting insights, Carol – thanks. I think you have a point about her opening lines – they’re so clean and descriptive without being wordy.


  2. I love opening a book and without realising it, being handcuffed to that same book. Great writing and great stories open new worlds. Thanks for sharing this post.


  3. I have found myself analyzing the first lines of books myself. No particular author. It’s a toss up. some a great some are utilitarian.


  4. I loved reading the different openings… true…they decide whether we will continue reading a book. I can see how you savor the language of books…for once I have time to do this in these surroundings…..because otherwise I am too bored here…

    I also listened to the talk about the necessity of bonding…so true as well…will send it to Chris who is renovating his house like crazy.

    I think I will go to Miami or to a beach close to here or West Palm Beach.


    Sent from my iPad


  5. Ok, I’m embarrased to admit that I have never heard of this obviously brilliant writer. Off to Amazon I go! I think her openings are brilliantly crafted and well thought out. Upon reading the first sentence, I immediately recognize that I am in capable hands and instinctually know that I’m in for an astounding literary journey. Thanks for sharing this Carol!


    • Thanks, Ojima. I noticed on your post that you’re getting some interesting followers. I really like the way your blog is evolving.It’s very up beat. Have you read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green? You might like it. Somehow, the main female character reminds me of you. She’s feisty. Anyway, that’s my impression of you.


  6. Second time I write this. I know it won’t be the same as the first. LOL
    I liked the beginnings your shared, and they definitely ring in the mind of the reader. To be so talented and to be fully published by major publishing companies.
    I would love to go to Banff for a writing conference in the fall. I went once and met some terrific people. Writers, poets, and our teacher had been nominated for a novel for the Giller Award, though she did not get it. Nonetheless, it was so much fun.
    Glad you are back and into the grind. I hope you are glad as well, but a holiday is always renewing. Isn’t it?


    • Oh, Banff must have been wonderful. I love going to writers’ conferences.
      Yes, to be so talented as Margaret Drabble and be published by major publishing companies. Every writers dream.
      But you know, I’ve been watching the Olympics and to be an athlete at that level requires a lot of work and dedication. I think to be a great writer is no different. These writers and athletes encourage us to be our best. The bar is set high and we can dream and push ourselves a bit more and accept wherever we are. After all, as your recent post says…it’s a work in progress…just as our lives are.

      Thanks for commenting. Good to be back in this blogging community we have.


  7. I always covet certain reviews. Sometimes I am more hooked on following a reviewer than the author after reading. Some have even brought me to tears. Thinking someone took the time to capture the message in the boundaries of a paragraph.
    I am with you on feeling annoyed that anyone would ask an author for their book’s meaning! That’s like turning a painting upside down while asking a proud child: “what is it? ”
    I hope if /no, WHEN I finish my first book, YOU will review it♡


    • Thanks for commenting.
      Just to be clear the quote about feeling annoyed is Margaret Drabble’s, although I agree with her and what you said about a painting is spot on.
      I’d love to review your book 🙂


  8. Great post, Carol! It’s the tone as well as the promise that intrigues me in these openings, especially, “the first time I TRIED spending a night with a man in a hotel (The Millstone).” This implies that perhaps she did not know him that well or at all and that things went badly.

    I LOVE the view from her writing room! I think I would never want to leave if I had that.
    As well, what she said about grief and boredom being wellsprings for creativity … so TRUE.


    • Thanks for commenting, Thelma.
      Yes, I’d love her office as well.
      Yes, first sentences. The thing is that once you’ve captured the reader’s attention you’ve got to keep it, page after page. But she does that brilliantly.

      There’s something about opening a book on page 69 and reading it. If it captures your attention then it’s likely to do the job throughout. We can also do that with our own manuscripts.


  9. Welcome Back Carol! I hope you had a nice break. I’ve missed your informative posts. I also just finished reading your book Mourning Has Broken and I loved the depth of emotion you didn’t hold back on.


      • Thanks Carol. Yes, back to serious work. It was hard to focus this week with the ending of the Olympics. Congrats Canada! 🙂 Good games played by all.


  10. Those are really good openings! And openings are critical for catching today’s readers. Looking back on the classics, there was no such requirement. Authors could take their time setting the scene and introducing the main characters. Not so today, I’m afraid. Then again, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with grabbing a reader’s attention with the first few sentences.


    • Thanks for this comment. We have learned to want immediate gratification and have adapted to our fast pace of life. If we don’t like something (a book) there’s always another one to read. And we (myself included) judge very quickly and because of this we can miss out on some really great literature.
      Book clubs are great because they force us to read books we might not otherwise have picked up and discuss it with others.


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  12. Thanks for liking my blog of food in detective stories. There seem to be a lot of “foodie” policeman these days, but finding something to eat with Dashiel Hammet and Raymond Chandler was a fun challenge.


    • I’m planning to post on writers and the food their characters eat. It seems that detectives are notorious for overindulging:).
      Thanks for following my blog. I’m very grateful.


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