Sample Sunday: Iris Murdoch, Pat Barker, Margaret Drabble

This week’s candidates for Sample Sunday are all novels by female authors that could be considered “grand dames” of British fiction. I’ve had all three books on my “to read” shelves for more than five years so in keeping with my 9 step plan to tackle my mountain of unread books it’s time to decide if I really want them any longer.

Border Crossing by Pat Barker

I think I bought this on the strength of Barker’s Regeneration trilogy but this is a completely different kind of novel. I’ve seen it described as “an unflinching novel of darkness, evil and society.” Its main character is a boy who at the age of 10 was convicted of a chillingly heartless murder. Now 23, he is released from prison. He feels betrayed by the child psychologist whose testimony at his trial, ensured his imprisonment and wants answers.

The Verdict: Keep. I’m intrigued by the psychology of the relationship between these two characters.

Black Prince by Iris Murdoch

This was Murdoch’s 15th novel.It’s about an unsuccessful novelist in his late fifties who leaves his dull office job as an Inspector of Taxes. He hopes to retire to the country, but predatory friends and relations dash his hopes of a peaceful retirement. 

I have a feeling I tried to read this once many years ago but didn’t get far into it. I’ve had a patchy experience with Murdoch, struggling with most of the books by her that I’ve bought over the years (the one exception being The Sea The Sea) but The Black Prince is considered one of the best books she wrote.

The Verdict: Undecided. If you’ve read this, help me make up my mind.

Pure Gold Baby by Margaret Drabble

Over her 50-year career as a writer, Margaret Drabble has written twenty novels plus a host of non-fiction books. I’ve not read even one of them. This tale of a single mother of a child with learning difficulties in the Hampstead suburb of London in the 1960s, was published in 2013 after a seven year gap. Several reviews I’ve read haven’t won me over. The plot “wavers confusingly and there is a lot of repetition” said one reviewer. Another pointed out how Drabble includes several learned digressions on everything from RD Laing to urban redevelopment.

The Verdict: Release

What do you think of the decisions I’ve reached? If you’ve read any of these books I’d love to hear from you.

BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

22 thoughts on “Sample Sunday: Iris Murdoch, Pat Barker, Margaret Drabble

  • January 26, 2021 at 6:36 pm
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    Alas, I haven’t read any, but thanks to reminding me I need to read more by iris Murdoch

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  • January 25, 2021 at 9:37 pm
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    Well as your resident Murdoch nut I’d say give The Black Prince a chance – esp because it “goes with” The Sea, The Sea in her oeuvre, in that she’s created a somewhat monstrous male narrator of the story – and it also riffs on Shakespeare. It’s very funny, too. I am her and there with Drabble and have never fancied Barker, just so I’ve covered them all!

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    • January 26, 2021 at 6:34 pm
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      It did seem to have some similarities with The Sea, The Sea. I was hoping you’d weigh in on this question given your expert knowledge of Murdoch. I shall keep it….

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  • January 25, 2021 at 5:38 pm
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    I read Pure Gold Baby and I was not impressed, so… good decision, if you ask me!

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  • January 24, 2021 at 11:18 pm
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    I’d hesitate over The Pure Gold Baby if I were you. Have a look at my review first, because I liked it: https://anzlitlovers.com/2013/12/08/the-pure-gold-baby-by-margaret-drabble/
    I’ve read Border Crossing too. I don’t have a review of it, but I gave it 4 stars at Goodreads, and as you know, I am stingy with 5s so 4 means I really liked it.
    The Murdoch: well, it’s on my shelves too. It’s on 1001 Books, if that’s any help…

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    • January 26, 2021 at 6:40 pm
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      Just read your review, yes you clearly enjoyed this book. I’ll dip into my copy before making my final decision

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  • January 24, 2021 at 8:35 pm
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    Nope..not read any of these. However I did revisit your 9 step plan. I need to get more serious about culling more books though I do make myself get rid of 2 to 3 books for every new one brought in to the house. 🐧🌻

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    • January 26, 2021 at 6:43 pm
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      The 1 in/2 out is a good approach. If it works for you already why do you need to do anything different??

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  • January 24, 2021 at 7:57 pm
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    I ploughed my way through most of Murdoch’s novels years ago after enjoying The Sea, The Sea. Not sure how they’d stand up today.

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    • January 26, 2021 at 6:46 pm
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      That’s not a ringing endorsement of any author – that you have to ‘plough’ through their books

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  • January 24, 2021 at 7:34 pm
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    Hi, I just left a comment … a fairly long one. And I am wondering if it went to spam. If you don’t locate it I will try to recreate it.

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  • January 24, 2021 at 7:32 pm
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    I cannot help with any of these authors. I have been curious in the past about Iris Murdoch and Margaret Drabble, but since I have mainly concentrated on mystery authors, I never got around to them.

    I did go back and read your post on your 9 step plan for your TBR books, though, and I thought it was wonderful. I have at least a thousand physical books in my TBR, some in boxes in the garage because we are in a small condominium. I do catalog my books but I have a large number from two book sales (pre-coronavirus) that have not been cataloged. (That is really fun though because they feel like new books when I get to them.) Anyway, once I clear some space in the garage I do hope to make some progress on clearing out some books but it is really hard to give up on books I have not read yet.

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    • January 26, 2021 at 6:51 pm
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      So glad you think this plan could be of help Tracy. Getting rid of books can be a challenging activity but it gets easier over time. I’ve learned now to just do one or two at a time rather than have a big session – less painful that way

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  • January 24, 2021 at 6:55 pm
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    I love Pat Barker’s books – Despite the cost of the kindle, I’ve just bought Border Crossing. Thanks for the heads up, Karen. But I’m afraid I haven’t yet liked one of Iris Murdoch’s. And have never tried Margaret Drabble – so , sorry, not much help, really.

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    • January 26, 2021 at 6:51 pm
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      The Barker novel is the one that sounds the most interesting and appealing to me. Drabble is now in the bag ready to go as a donation to the local community library

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  • January 24, 2021 at 6:31 pm
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    I’ve not read any of the authors, but I suspect I would abandon the Drabble too. I tried to read Murdoch once, but with no success – maybe just not for me either!

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