Lately, I have not had the chance to read many books simply because I wanted to read them. The reason for that is simple: I have too many books to read for my classes at college. That does not mean that I do not want to read the required books for my classes, actually, they are usually books that are on my list of books to read. One of these books that I read last semester was The Middle Ground by Margaret Drabble.
Margaret Drabble was born June 5, 1939 in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, to John F. Drabble and Kathleen Marie. Her older sister is the author A.S. Byatt. Drabble was educated at the Mount School, York, and Newnham College, Cambridge. She is known mostly as a novelist, but she is also a critic and biographer. Her novel The Millstone won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in 1966. Jerusalem the Golden won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for fiction) in 1967 and The Needle’s Eye won the Yorkshire Post Book Award (Finest Fiction) in 1972. The author has also received the E. M. Forster Award, American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1973.
The Middle Ground is a novel that could make you give up the reading in the beginning, but if you give it a chance you will probably enjoy it. The narrative structure employed by Drabble is nothing you would expect and seems a bit pointless and boring until you get really involved in it. The main character, Kate Armstrong, is going through what her friend, Hugo Mainwaring, termed her “mid-life crisis” and we follow her in her quest to find herself again and understand how her life has got to the way it is right now.
The narrator of The Middle Ground is intrusive and often talks directly to the reader and expresses his/her opinion on the characters and their lives. The narrative is fragmented, just like real life, and that is what makes this novel very interesting. For my final paper about the novel I wrote about how the narrative strategy used by Drabble reflects the inner turmoil of its characters. The narrative that disturbs the reader in the beginning turns out to be a reflection of the novel’s content, of the feelings faced by the main characters as they try to understand the hows and whys of life.
We get to known Kate at a point when she does not know herself very well anymore. What Kate wants is to find some sense in life, to understand how her past brought about her present and how it will create her future. Through the fragmented narration of her life and the lives of those around her we learn along with Kate that life has no predictable patterns, everything has multiple perspectives and anything is possible. The novel does not have a closing ending; the narrator leaves us with a cliffhanger that allows to any possible ending, just like life has many possibilities, many directions it could go at any moment.
I know I failed to write a proper blurb for this novel, but that is because nothing really happens in The Middle Ground, at least, not in the way we are used to read in novels. The truth is that the transformation that occurs during the story is more of perspective than any big change in plot.
The only way to truly understand this novel is to read it. If you keep in mind that the narrative strategy is more than it seems, that it is a reflection of what is going on with the characters, I am sure that you will enjoy it immensely.
For further information about Margaret Drabble visit:
British Council Literature
For more information about The Middle Ground I recommend the following articles:
Bromberg, Pamela S. “Margaret Drabble’s ‘The Radiant Way’: Feminist Metafiction”. NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 24.1 (1990): 5-25.
Bromberg, Pamela S. “Narrative in Drabble’s ‘The Middle Ground’: Relativity versus Teleology”. Contemporary Literature 24.4 (1983): 463-479.
Greene, Gayle. “Feminist Fiction and the Uses of Memory”. Signs 16.2 (1991): 290-321.
Pickering, Jean. “Margaret Drabble’s Sense of the Middle Problem”. Twentieth Century Literature 30.4 (1984): 475-483.
Rose, Ellen Cronan. “Drabble’s The Middle Ground: ‘Mid-Life’ Narrative Strategies”. Critique 23.3 (1982): 69-82.
Rubenstein, Roberta. “Fragmented Bodies/Selves/Narratives: Margaret Drabble’s Postmodern Turn” Contemporary Literature 35.1 (1994): 136-155.
Stovel, Bruce. “Subjective to Objective: A Career Pattern in Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Contemporary Women Novelists”. Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 18.1 (1987): 53-61.