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The Seven Sisters Hardcover – November 11, 2002

46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

It's hard to get across just how flat-out thrilling, how readable, how absorbing is Margaret Drabble's novel The Seven Sisters. It sounds positively dull when you describe it: Candida Wilton, a faculty wife of late middle age, has been dumped by her allegedly do-gooder husband. Her three daughters aren't too impressed with her, either. The mousy Candida decamps to an inglorious flat in London, where she measures out her time in visits to the health club, trips to the grocery store, and her weekly evening class on Virgil. She tentatively makes a few new friends and rediscovers some old ones. This opening section of the book, told in diary form, is a marvel of tone. With very little action, Drabble makes Candida's forays into the world quietly electrifying. One of her new pleasures is recording in her diary her mounting dislike of her ex-husband. You sense a giddy freedom: "Andrew had come to seem to me to be the vainest, the most self-satisfied, the most self-serving hypocrite in England. That kindly twinkle in his eyes had driven me to the shores of madness."

Ah, but there's more life for Candida yet. A small, unexpected inheritance is left to her, and so she organizes her friends--all female, mostly aged, mostly unmarried--into a tour of Naples as Virgil describes it in The Aeneid. Their holiday is a fictional tour-de-force: by turns a hilarious send-up of group dynamics, a metafictional lark, a feminist rant, and a dark acknowledgement of Candida's mortality. In the end, Drabble's novel is a very serious one, and a very good one. --Claire Dederer

From Publishers Weekly

The narrator of Drabble's teasingly clever new novel, like several of her fictional predecessors (in The Witch of Endor and The Peppered Moth) is a lonely, middle-aged woman disillusioned with her life and wary about her future. Betrayed and divorced by her husband, the smug headmaster of a school in Suffolk, and estranged from her three grown daughters, Candida Wilton moves to a flat in a rundown, slightly dangerous London neighborhood. To fill her days, she takes a class in Virgil, until the adult-ed building is taken over by a health club, which she joins for lack of anything better to do. The first section of the narrative is Candida's computer diary, in which she tries to make sense of the circumstances that have led her to this narrow place in her life, and her tentative efforts to reach out and make new friends. Though she apologizes for "the bleating, whining, resentful, martyred tone I seem to have adopted," Candida's account has the fresh veracity of someone who's a newcomer to London and to the state of being single. While Drabble paints her as sexually cold and maternally reserved, given to French phrases and snobbish assessments, Candida is a character the reader grudgingly admires as she tries to maintain hope that she can turn her life around. Then a small miracle occurs. A financial windfall allows her to take some of her fellow Virgil aficionados and two old friends on a trip to Tunis and Sicily, following the footsteps of Aeneas. Candida learns more about her companions as the trip progresses and gains some insights into her own behavior. The narrative takes several surprising turns, throwing the reader as off-center as Candida has become and proving that Candida herself has not been candid. But Drabble has: Candida's evasive account accurately charts the psychological territory of one who is suddenly cast adrift.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (November 11, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151007403
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151007400
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,940,491 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Margaret Drabble is the author of The Sea Lady, The Seven Sisters, The Peppered Moth, and The Needle's Eye, among other novels. She has written biographies of Arnold Bennett and Angus Wilson, and she is the editor of the fifth and sixth editions of The Oxford Companion to English Literature. For her contributions to contemporary English literature, she was made a Dame of the British Empire in 2008.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The Seven Sisters marks a return to the deep characterizations that made Drabble's early to mid-period novels such good, deep reads. Candida Wilton strikes me as a woman who is ubiquitious in real life, but seldom taken as a novelistic subject: a woman in very late middle age, with no distinguished career, and a less than happy family life whose recent impolosion nonetheless came as a shattering blow. She shouldn't be a particularly likeable character, because she is rather cold -- bringing to mind Emma Evans in Drabble's sixties novel, The Garrick Year.
But as with Emma, the deepness of the characterization brings us to empathize with this woman for whom simple gestures and human interactions take tremendous effort and courage. She cannot help being the way she is -- that is her character. Yet by the book's end, she seems to be entering the final leg of her life with renewed hope and connection.
This is a grownup book, for intelligent people. I wish there were more being written like it.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By D. Cloyce Smith on January 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
The first third of this book is so unassuming, even (shudder) "quaint" and "old-fashioned," that I was jarred both by the sudden change in fortune for the storyteller and by the three drastic changes in point of view that cause one to question the very truthfulness of the narrator. There is a reason for this ploy: while certainly a novel about growing old, "The Seven Sisters" is, above all, about a woman who is struggling, late in life, to find her voice.

Candida Wilton is that woman, cast aside by her husband, who remarries after an affair, and even by her three daughters, who seem to side with their father. She moves from the pastoral neighborhoods of Suffolk to Ladbroke Grove, a squalid area of London, where she tries to make new friends, first by taking a class on Virgil at a dilapidated adult education school and then by joining the yuppified health club erected on the site after the school is shut down. She even manages to make the acquaintance of a few human specimens from the seedy "street theater" that both frightens and bemuses her during her strolls. And she spends much of her time recording thoughts on her journey through life onto her new laptop computer; it is the entries of this diary that comprise the book.

The novel's first shift occurs when Candida reaps the benefits of an unexpected inheritance and decides to gather a group of "sisters," both from her past and from her Virgil class, to accompany her on a tour retracing Aeneas's journey from Carthage to Naples. This voyage allows her to deliberate on the meaning of friendship, on her passive acceptance of whatever has life has thrown her way, and on the "irony ... that as we near death, there are fewer people left to be sorry, fewer left to miss us.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Tsila Sofer Elguez on July 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I am not sure "the Seven Sisters" is a book for everyone. I am tempted to say that the story will most appeal to senior age women. On a second thought... maybe not. It will appeal to anyone who has been thinking of senior age, to anyone who has felt lonely, closed behind four walls, trying to figure out what to do with a day that stretches out endlessly... I myself do not belong to any of the above mentioned groups and still, have found this book to be relaxing and comforting, as in the end the bottom line is as always - reach out to other people.
This is a book of change. A very slow change that can happen in every age. Candida Wilton writes to herself the accounts of her London life. We do not know if Candida means her diary to be read by other people (there are hints she does), but it seems she wants to arrange her thoughts and feelings. Candida moved to London by herself after her divorce from Andrew. She says out front that she is not in a close touch with her three daughters. She does not make an effort to be connected to them or does not show the reader that she is much bothered by this fact. Only towards the end of the book do we start to understand the nature of her relationship with her daughters.
In London Candida tries to find what to do with her time. She walks, she exercises in the gym. She waits.
The main appeal of this book is its sincerity -although sincerity has many layers, as I understood in the end of the book. There are things you hold even from yourself. Candida's (she is candid) mood changes from depression (that even she is not able to fully admit to herself) to feelings of anticipation... a certainty that something good is about to happen to her; and indeed it does.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Samantha Madell on February 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
What a great idea - making a late-middle-aged woman the "heroine" of a novel! If only Candida had been a more likeable heroine ... or a much *less* likeable heroine, for that matter.
I can only agree with other reviewers that the characterisation in The Seven Sisters is *excellent* ... but the narrator, Candida, strikes me as bland to the point of being irritating. I agree with Candida's own mild puzzlement that she managed to make and keep friends who, afterall, "didn't have to bother with [her]". I don't know why they did bother with her. And yet, people practically flock to Candida. The source of her apparent charisma remains a mystery to me.
The book is peppered with tantalising hints and significant little details. And Candida's friends - who make up "the seven sisters" - really are a colourful, vibrant, and diverse bunch of older women.
The thing that disappointed me most about this book was a dramatic shift and twist towards the end. I won't give the plot away - suffice to say I felt *betrayed*, which tells you just how absorbed I really had been in the story!
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