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The Witch Of Exmoor (1998)

The Witch of Exmoor (1998)
3.32 of 5 Votes: 2
0156006049 (ISBN13: 9780156006040)
mariner books
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The Witch Of Exmoor (1998)
The Witch Of Exmoor (1998)

About book: There are a few interesting commentaries here about social class, family relationships, and especially the squabbling that goes on over inheritance. BUT in general I thought it was boring, lacking in suspense, and in need of a good editor.First, there are several points in which Drabble contradicts herself. She describes Nathan as very ugly (pg 3) and then later as an attractive man (pg 17). Certainly we come to discover that he is a bit of a playboy, but how is it that he is simultaneously unattractive yet attractive? Personally, I did not find him compelling (either in physical description or as a character..he was a bit of a whiner). Another point at which Drabble needed editorial help was round about pg 90; she says that they write to Frieda, but then quickly back tracks to wondering if Frieda gets mail and when David and Gogo visit, they have a packet of things to give PRESUMABLY because they have no mailing address for Frieda. A third instance of this is when Frieda's car is referred to on pg 158 as a Saab after having been called a Volvo. Maybe Drabble was trying to make a point about the interchangeability of these high end machines, but I found it to just be sloppy, inconsistent, and distracting stuff for an attentive reader.The veil of ignorance word game and the whole class consciousness throughout felt just too overdone. Yeah, these are upper middle class Brits who undeservedly have a higher social position than many other people (Will Paine for example), yeah they are educated and intelligent and aware of their undeserved position. But do they really talk about it this much? Do they think about it? Maybe David would (he is a sociologist), maybe Frieda would (she is a radical author), but Gogo and Rosemary, Patsy, Daniel, and Nathan would not ever think about or question their entitled position. Nathan, Freida and Belle end up in "heaven" (beyond the veil of ignorance, but still contemplating it), which was not only disgusting to my agnostic mind but simplistic and unnecessary. Are we to understand that when Benjie jumps he will join them in the watery-bliss?As other reviewers have mentioned, I found the narrator annoying. I disliked the 2nd person conversational tone "you might have guessed..." or "now we shall walk through the garden and into the night." Either be a narrator or be omniscient, but please do not condescendingly discuss my opinions with me AS A READER.On the other hand, there were a few fine points of social commentary: Freida's rejection of modernity certainly is compelling; Drabble's description of the way that Benjie can feel his parent's begin to change their minds as they enter the cave tourist destination (pg 93) rings true both as a parent and (in memory) as a kid; Drabble's note that "greed and selfishness have become respectable. Like family jealousy, they are not new, but they have gained a new sanction. It is now considered correct to covet." is lovely, concise and accurate (in my opinion); Freida's questions on the continuity of one's own character through life is interesting. Overall there are some fine points, but I think it could have been much better done and would have been much more readable with some editing.

‘The Witch of Exmoor’ begins with the adult children of Frieda Haxby Palmer having a weekend together for the purpose of deciding what to do about their mother. She has, they feel, lost her mind or gone senile. The problem is, there is not one sign that she is incompetent, except by the standards of her upper middle class, consumerist children. What they call signs of a failing mind are selling the house they grew up in, suing the government over tax issues, making a public investigation and scene over a manufacturer of over processed foods, and moving to a rambling, falling apart white elephant on the coast far from ‘civilization’. And embarrassing them in the process of all that. That’s the worst; the embarrassment and the worries over what she might be doing with their future inheritance. Frieda doesn’t care what they think; she’s never been an attentive mother; when they were young, she was busy writing and earning a living, now they mostly bore her so she doesn’t bother with them. The only family members she cares to interact with are her son-in-law, who believes in social activism, and his son, who is bright and curious and has so far avoided becoming average. Her children feel she is a monster because of her past and current inattentiveness. They really have no idea how she spends her days and who her friends are. The characters are close to caricatures: the moral-less lawyer, the good wife who hides concerns in a Martha Stewart existence, the bad child (drugs), the good child (does what her family wants), the poor man who has no chance at an equitable life because of the circumstances of his birth, etc. Frieda is the character who is best filled out; she is like a 1960s hippie and feminist who has grown into old age with her values intact; we find more and more about her as the book goes on, like peeling an onion. The book is really less a family novel (although it is that) than it is a social commentary that is as apt today as it was in 1996. Britain is still trying to figure out how to fix the NHS, human rights are still being trampled everywhere. Corporations are still soulless entities who will do anything for a profit. I really enjoyed this book. I wanted to know more about Frieda; she’s a woman with a sense of adventure, one whom I would like to sit down and have a drink and a good conversation with. She’s a real person in a cardboard world.
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It seems as if there are dozens and dozens of relatives in this slightly comical novel about a supposedly elderly and eccentric woman (she's in her early 60s), her three middle-aged children, their spouses and a passel of grandchildren. Unfortunately the central character is not especially characterized, and I found it hard to remember who the offspring were, who they were married to and what kind of people they were. A lot happens in this book, but it feels like almost nothing until the last 30 pages, when it seems as if Drabble has suddenly woken up and things get going very fast. I almost stopped reading right before that section because I just didn't care about these people at all.
My first Margaret Drabble! I liked how it opened with a family dinner, as I’m a sucker for books that feature food. It takes a while for us to actually meet the ‘witch’, that is, Freida Palmer, the matriarch of the family who has just moved into a ruin of a house in Exmoore, as quite a bit of the story is about her three children and their respective families. Frieda then disappears about halfway through the novel, and the focus is then back on her family’s exploration of their eccentric mother. I got a little irritated by that, as I was more interested in Frieda than her whiny family, and the omniscient narrator can get a little too much in this King Lear-ish adaptation.
Two-thirds of The Witch of Exmoor is about successful author Frieda Palmer and her relationship with her three children and their spouses. Frieda, who decides to move to a ruin of a house in Exmoor to examine her life and write her memoirs, is considered "cracking up" and "eccentric" by her family. There are discussions over who should be looking out for mother. Frieda is merely independently living her life and not caring much what other people think of it. While her children think her "crackers," Frieda is much more rational than they. Her daughter, Rosemary Herz, and her son, Daniel, both have lives that are falling apart in one form or another. Some of this disintegration has to do with work and some with problems with their children, but they are yet to learn that. Her daughter, Grace D'Anger is married to David, a very successful politician, and is the mother of Benjamin, Frieda's hands-down favorite grandchild. None of them have to worry about money so they selfishly worry about themselves with little thought for their children. Then Frieda vanishes and her children are thrown into a tizzy. They fear she is dead, but they are guiltily relieved she will no longer be a potential embarrassment to them. Then the games begin, a bit prematurely, over Frieda's will. If there is one thing I could have wished for this novel, it would have been that it had been entirely about Frieda and merely mentioned her insipid children. A prequel would be welcome as Frieda is a fascinating character.
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