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Monday, January 17, 2005

cover of the Witch of Exmoor

This is an well-written novel centering on various members of a large British family, all connected to an eccentric but dominating matriarch, a feminist, the famous writer Freda Haxby Palmar, the "witch" of the title. Her family all think she has finally gone off the deep end this time, but are uncertain that any of them have any influence over her or any ability to stop her. However, the most compelling idea to me (one that stayed with me) is David D'Anger's idea of "pushing the button": if you could, with the push of a button, revolutionize our social hierarchy in the hopes of making things at least slightly better for everyone even if it makes your own situation worse, would you do it? This question is posed mostly as a thought experiment as part of a dinner conversation, but the implication is that those who are wealthy and comfortable in the current system-- despite its injustices-- are not very likely to "push the button".

I bought this book used at a library for a pretty good price, because Margaret Drabble's name caught my eye. I had read The Radiant Way before and enjoyed it fairly well (and, no doubt, the title caught my eye because of my predilection for fantasy-- although the book doesn't really deliver on that end). It took me a long time to read this one (I think I actually started it sometime last year). The characters are all incredibly realistic and believable, and each one has their flaws, but none of them is particularly admirable or likable, so it is difficult to connect to any of them.

The book is well-written, and there are some fun points where the narrator intrudes and bluntly tells you that there are details you don't get to see because they aren't important to the story, or other little comments like that, which I enjoyed. However, the book as a whole is a pretty slow read, and rather sad in general-- so many unhappy people, and an unjust society that they are all part of.

Here is a quote from David D'Angers about pushing the button (although this is earlier in the book, while he still quite idealistic), which is the one idea from this book that really stayed with me:

To know the good is to choose it. This is what he learnt. This became clear to him as a boy and it is clear to him now. He would push the button, he would countenance earthquakes. He would rip away the veil from the temple and force us to choose the good. You know such men are dangerous. He knows the absence of such men is dangerous.

Title:The Witch of Exmoor
Author:Margaret Drabble
Date published:1996
Number of pages:281


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