The Dark Flood Rises
Author: Margaret Drabble
Anna Bentinck
Published 2017 by Dreamscape
13 hours, 22 minutes – Unabridged

The Dark Flood RisesI read a Margaret Drabble novel for the first time almost 40 years ago, and was instantly hooked. What is it about her books that makes them so good? My sister and I used to ponder this, discussing how we would tend to respond whenever someone asked us, “But what’s that book ABOUT?” We agreed that the answer was, essentially, “It’s about some people and they know each other, and they all do some things, and think about some things, and maybe talk to each other about those things … .” Which always ends up sounding sort of lame, and makes people think the books may not have much to them. On the contrary, Margaret Drabble novels are invariably immersive and satisfying, providing not only windows into her small worlds of contemporary English educated middle-class adults, but mirrors in which the reader may contemplate his/her own reality.

At the heart of Drabble’s latest novel, The Dark Flood Rises, are the intertwined realities of aging and mortality – truly universal human concerns. The title comes from the D. H. Lawrence poem “The Ship of Death,” lines from which (along with the entirety of W. B. Yeats’s “The Wheel”) form the novel’s epigraph. References to both of these poems recur throughout the story, in the minds and mouths of various characters. Alongside the metaphorical rising flood of death as it approaches assorted characters in a number of ways, Drabble also works in the not-at-all-figurative worldwide rising waters that come with climate change. The result is a rich tapestry of 21st-century life among people who have lived many decades and have much to reflect on.

Fran Stubbs forms the axis upon which swing all the other characters and their narratives. Fran is 70-something, still working as an expert consultant on housing for the elderly. That is her paying job, and it takes her all over England, and in and out of various facilities. What takes up a lot of her unpaid time and attention is being a caregiver for her homebound, non-ambulatory, and still quite self-absorbed ex-husband Claude. Their two late-middle-aged children both currently find themselves in situations close to the physical rising waters of our world: Christopher is visiting friends and attending to some unpleasant personal affairs in the Canary Islands (an archipelago with shrinking coastlines and a burgeoning refugee population), and Poppet, who is semi-estranged from her mother for reasons never fully explained, lives on the banks of a canal at the edge of a salt marsh, where brown water swells and threatens to maroon her small cottage.

As the story unfolds, in England and in the Canaries, characters cope with the infirmities and deaths of friends and loved ones, reflect on history (ranging from the deeply personal to the broadly geopolitical), and try not to worry about forces beyond their control, including (but not limited to) genocide, earthquakes, disease, global warming, and slipping on the stairs.

Reader Anna Bentinck does a highly professional job, disappearing completely into the characters and the narrative until the listener no longer “hears” her voice, but seems to receive the story fully formed in the center of the skull. No flash, no furbelows – just a seamless audiobook experience that clips along smoothly without any sense of the time going by. This was my first experience with Bentinck, but I hope not the last.

Like most Drabble books, this is not a tale of big, cataclysmic events, but of the cumulative effects of everyday occurrences in interconnected everyday lives. If it seems to end rather abruptly, that is surely by design, given the novel’s preoccupation with the end of life. As Fran reflects after the unexpected death of a close friend, “Nobody will ever know now which way her mind was wandering, to what small revelations her enquiries were leading her. It’s of no importance whatsoever … .” And yet the listener finishes feeling grateful to have been privy to the gently lapping waves and the subtly shifting currents in the lives of these people Drabble has presented us with, as we await the flood that is coming for us all.


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher as part of the Solid Gold Reviewer program administered by Audiobook Jukebox. No payment was received in return for a review. The receipt of the book had no influence on the opinions expressed in my review.