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The Witch of Exmoor Paperback – Bargain Price, October 15, 1998

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Paperback, Bargain Price, October 15, 1998
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--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Freda Haxby Palmer, author of the feminist classic The Matriarchy of War, was always more popular with her readers than with her own children. Her three offspring, now married and middle-aged, lead respectable lives, but Freda's behavior has gone from bad to worse. She lives like a hippie in a rundown seaside retreat in Exmoor. Her most recent book, a romance novel based on the life of Queen Christina, was universally panned. Lately, she has taken on the British tax code in the courts. But when Freda turns up missing, her estate suddenly seems more desirable. A movie producer has optioned her romance novel, and a sizable fortune may go to David D'Anger, M.P., her black son-in-law, to finance his utopian dream of creating a truly just society, an idea that makes the rest of the family cringe. This novel reexamines one of Drabble's favorite themes, the extent to which political idealism is a luxury of the privileged classes. This combination soap opera/novel of ideas, peppered with daunting Briticisms, is recommended for most Anglophile fiction collections.
-?Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

It's been five years since Drabble's last novel, The Gates of Ivory, and she is at her sorceress' best spinning this wickedly gothic tale of one family's folly and tragedy. The witch of Exmoor is Frieda Haxby Palmer, a writer, "social analyst, prophet, sage and sybil," reluctant matriarch, and determined lone wolf. Bored with her three self-important and ambitious children and with all but one of her five grandchildren, and irritated by the viperish reviews of her last book, a historical novel about Queen Christina, she sold the family estate and bought a great, rotting mansion perched precariously above the sea. Here Frieda resides in eccentric solitude, working fitfully on her memoirs and enjoying her scheming family's increasing discomfort and concern over her sanity and her last will and testament. Drabble's finely etched portraits of Frieda's cold-blooded son Daniel, well-armored daughters Gogo and Rosemary, and their intriguingly conflicted spouses are priceless, bright mirrors reflecting the perversity of our times and our minds. Wielding an imperially impertinent narrative style, Drabble slyly contrasts the fairy tale^-like roles she has teasingly fashioned for her characters with acute social commentary, illuminating, in the process, all that has been lost in this age of toxicity and consumerism and all that has always been the scourge of our bloody species: selfishness and cruelty, greed and shortsightedness. Witty, original, and caustic, Drabble dazzles. Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt Brace & Company; First Edition first Printing edition (October 15, 1998)
  • ISBN-10: 0156006049
  • ASIN: B000C4SXNU
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,297,656 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

40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Gail Dohrmann on February 2, 1999
Format: Paperback
If you read James Wood's review in the New York Times, you would get the wrong impression of this novel. The reviewer, I think, completely misunderstood it. The book is a attempt at a genre novel, notably a gothic romance where the main character hides away in an isolated mansion and behaves in a somewhat crazy fashion, at least in the view of her family. Drabble writes in the fashion of a 19th century omniscient author who intrudes and comments on the action; to return to the fashions of long ago in this case is an experimental approach to the work. What she's trying to do, I think, is jolt us into seeing contemporary England much like the 19th century writers like Dickens offered a social critique of their times. Woods calls Drabble's characters caricatures, but unlike Dickens' portrayals, these characters are not types nor are they exaggerated. They are indeed individuals, but we see them more from the outside than the inside. There are many characters in this short novel; thus they can't be as well rounded as Drabble's usual characters.
The main character, the so-called witch, is not insane as Woods says, but merely eccentric. She alone seems to escape from the strictures of modern English society and finds a meaningful kind of freedom. Her grown children do not understand her or appreciate her because they are too caught up in the necessities of contemporary life in England: the materialism, the busyness, the indulgence of children, etc. The generation in the prime of life (her grown children) has forgotten all about endeavors to reach a just society because they are too well off and are distracted.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 10, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Frieda Haxby Palmer has isolated herself in an abandoned hotel on the Western coast of England. Meanwhile, her three adult children, and their spouses, fret about what she's up to and who will get her money. The plot unfolds amidst superbly realistic descriptions of the family life of England's "chattering" class and the Exmoor countryside of Frieda's hermitage. Each time we start to sink into that dream world, however, the author jerks us awake: with a deliberately noisy twitching of her puppets' strings, a recondite allusion, a diatribe against Thatcherite politics, or a subtle evocation of the magical, mystical, mythical West that has captivated the English imagination since King Arthur sailed off from Cornwall.
Readers willing to go along with Frieda will find themselves journeying through a fascinating physical and mental countryside. It's not the Forest of Arden, but neither is it Lear's blasted heath. At the end, we find ourselves on Prospero's "golden sands," as a would-be benevolent dictator learns to relinquish control and entrust the future to the young.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Orna Ross on November 1, 2012
Format: Paperback
`Let them have everything that is pleasant. The windows are open on to the terrace and the lawn, and drooping bunches of wistaria deepen from a washed mauve pink to purple. The roses are in bloom.' With an opening paragraph like this, where else could we be but England?

But we are reading Margaret Drabble, so ye olde English scent of roses soon fades. The people of this novel inhabit the same country that the author outlined in her acclaimed 1980s trilogy: "Not a bad country... just a mean, cold, ugly, divided, tired, clapped out, post-imperial, post-industrial slag-heap covered in polystyrene hamburger cartons".

So though Drabble allows the Palmers - the middle-aged, rational, privileged and selfish family at the centre of this book - to begin with "everything that is pleasant", by the novel's end "the pond" silt up, the lawn is not mown, bindweed embraces the sundial and ground elder ramps around the roots of the wistaria".

The destruction of the Palmers - Daniel and his sisters Rosemary and Gogo - is rooted in their obsession with their mother, Frieda, the eponymous Witch. Frieda Haxby Palmer, writer and capricious free spirit, had, in the opinion of her family, gone mad.

The basis for their concern is that she has moved house: bought a crumbling mansion on the edge of the Exmoor coast, where she intends to write her memoirs and change her will. But Frieda has not been the best of mothers and her children's filial concern is more than a little self-interested.

Thus we have a classic 19th century novel plot of family inheritance given a 20th century outing. But Drabble is no Dickens, and prefers the cerebral to the sentimental.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Clarissa Dalloway on April 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
I dislike most modern fiction and seldom read anything written after 1900. For a few writers, I make an exception. Margaret Drabble is one of those. As Emerson said, If eyes were made for seeing, then beauty is its own excuse for being." Enjoy Drabble for her writing. If her stories were completely uninteresting, she could be forgiven just on the basis of her wonderful prose. Read her slowly. Appreciate her ability to capture the scene, to paint the characters visually, to be inside the minds of her different characters.

But there is the story, and she never fails to create a fascinating one. Why? Because she absolutely observes people in their habitats as a biologist might study a species.

She is also an intellectual. Horrors. But the fact is, if you are not particularly well read and intellectually curious, you can enjoy her books but will miss a lot. She is a thinking person and writes about other thinking people and the issues of the present.

In some ways she is an old fashioned writer--telling a story. But her detached pauses, when she steps back and reminds you that she is a writer in control of the story with the ability to tell you what she wants to tell you--and not to tell you what she doesn't--is very postmodern.

Her characters may be unfamiliar to some. If you've never envisioned a better society or contemplated life without a VCR or considered paring life down to simple, solitary existance--or if you've never had a mother who might possibly decide to chuck it all in and do as she pleases late in life, you may not identify with her people, but you can still enjoy them, for running through Drabble is always a sly sense of humor, a feeling for irony, and the irristible impulse to show that for all our modern navel-gazing, we are almost always complete strangers to ourselves and each day is potentially a surprise.

Can we ask for more? Read all of Drabble's books and live a fuller, more considered life.
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