Summary and book reviews of The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble

The Dark Flood Rises

by Margaret Drabble

The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble X
The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2017, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2018, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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About this Book

Book Summary

A magnificently mordant reckoning with mortality by the great British novelist.

Francesca Stubbs has a very full life. A highly regarded expert on housing for the elderly who is herself getting on in age, she drives "restlessly round England," which is "her last love ... She wants to see it all before she dies." Amid the professional conferences she attends, she fits in visits to old friends, brings home-cooked dinners to her ex-husband, texts her son, who is grieving over the sudden death of his girlfriend, and drops in on her daughter, a quirky young woman who lives in a floodplain in the West Country. The space between vitality and morality suddenly seems narrow, but Fran "is not ready to settle yet, with a cat upon her knee." She still prizes her "frisson of autonomy," her belief in herself as a dynamic individual doing meaningful work in the world.

This dark and glittering novel moves back and forth between an interconnected group of family and friends in England and a seemingly idyllic expat community in the Canary Islands. It is set against a backdrop of rising flood tides in Britain and the seismic fragility of the Canaries, where we also observe the flow of immigrants from an increasingly war-torn Middle East. With Margaret Drabble's characteristic wit and deceptively simple prose, The Dark Flood Rises enthralls, entertains, and asks existential questions in equal measure. Of course, there is undeniable truth in Francesca's insight: "Old age, it's a fucking disaster!"

Excerpt
The Dark Flood Rises

She has often suspected that her last words to herself and in this world will prove to be 'You bloody old fool' or, perhaps, depending on the mood of the day or the time of the night, 'you fucking idiot'. As the speeding car hits the tree, or the unserviced boiler explodes, or the smoke and flames fill the hallway, or the grip on the high guttering gives way, those will be her last words. She isn't to know for sure that it will be so, but she suspects it. In her latter years, she's become deeply interested in the phrase 'Call no man happy until he is dead.' Or no woman, come to that. 'Call no woman happy until she is dead.' Fair enough, and the ancient world had known women as well as men who had met unfortunate ends: Clytemnestra, Dido, Hecuba, Antigone. Though of course Antigone, one must remember, had rejoiced to die young, and in a good (if to us pointless) cause, thereby avoiding all the inconveniences ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Dark Flood Rises, in addition to offering various considerations of individual mortality, also broadens its scope to examine the aging of our civilization and our world. Drabble depicts a Europe overrun with refugees desperate for solace and safety, an island chain at risk of destruction by volcanoes, an England whose lowlands are increasingly subject to flooding. Imagery of floods, both literal and figurative, recurs throughout the narrative and gives the novel a feeling of impending doom and a sort of inevitability, an ending that is never wished for but approaches relentlessly.   (Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Full Review (501 words).

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Media Reviews

Minneapolis Star-Tribune
The Dark Flood Rises escapes being unbearably depressing by the brilliance of its characterizations, the cleverness of its observations and the indomitable spirit of Fran

Associated Press
A vein of black humor pulses in Margaret Drabble's The Dark Flood Rises, which, thankfully, makes the novel's reflections on how we age and die as entertaining as a conversation with a dear friend.

The New York Times Book Review
This humane and masterly novel by one of Britain's most dazzling writers is . . . deeper than mere philosophy: a praisesong for the magical human predicament exactly as it has been ordained on Earth.

NPR
A beautiful rumination on what it means to grow old . . . It's a truly lovely novel . . . This isn't a sentimental book, but it's a deeply emotional one.

The Washington Post
Once again, Dame Margaret . . . has created a story that defies its own parameters . Gentler than Muriel Spark’s Memento Mori but no less honest, The Dark Flood Rises examines aging from liver spots to liver failure, but the novel’s humor vaccinates it from chronic bleakness . . . [Drabble is] refreshingly frank about the tragicomedy of aging.

Booklist
With intimations of the pending ravages of global warming, Drabble’s incisive grappling with questions of purpose and chance in life and death is peppered with wisdom, pluck, and humor.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This searingly sad but often hilarious novel chronicles the last dance of a few old codgers, and Drabble (The Sea Lady) has filled her tale with characters desperately trying to make sense of life and loss, of beauty, talent, missed opportunities, faded passion.

Library Journal
Starred Review. For women of a certain age, it is a pure pleasure to grow older alongside Drabble (The Pure Gold Baby; The Ice Age). For all others, there's plenty of joy to be had in this thoughtful meditation on aging and mortality.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. The lack of narrative drive may irk some readers, but those who appreciate her able combination of intelligence, wit, and rue will willingly follow Drabble into the sunset.

The Times (UK)
Full of characteristically arresting descriptions . . . there is a sharpness about most of this, a sense of serious things being addressed without sentiment or wool-pulling.

The Observer (UK)
An acerbic, sharp, meditation on what it means to lead a good life and how to ensure a good death.

The New Statesman (UK)
Mordant wit and a strong humanitarian concern coexist in this novel . . . a significant achievement, admirable and truthful.

The Guardian (UK)
Beneath the apparently placid surface, Drabble’s novel seethes with apocalyptic intent . . . these characters are brilliantly drawn

The Sunday TImes (UK)
A darkly witty and exhilarating novel … bleak but bracing . . . Its sharp perceptions and macabre verve make it an often exhilarating read

The Sunday Telegraph (UK)
Surprisingly uplifting, this profound novel has an unforgettable central character.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Volcanic Activity on the Canary Islands

La PalmaFloods both real (due to global warming) and figurative (tides of refugees washing ashore in the Mediterranean and elsewhere) dominate the imagery of Margaret Drabble's novel, The Dark Flood Rises. One of the most memorable discussions involves speculation about volcanic activity on the Canary Islands (where much of the novel's secondary narratives take place) and how a catastrophic volcanic event there could prove cataclysmic elsewhere, including on the other side of the Atlantic.

The Canary Islands, which are part of Spain and are located in the Atlantic Ocean west of Morocco, are a popular tourist destination, especially among Europeans. The islands are volcanic in nature, and are the only place in Spain where volcanoes have...

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