Thursday, January 9, 2014

Review: The Pure Gold Baby by Margaret Drabble

First published:- October 1st, 2013
Published by:-  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) 
Star rating:-

There are two kinds of rambling I have come across in literature - the good kind of rambling wherein the narrator jumps from one topic to another sub-topic quite abruptly, dwelling on one subject for a good many number of pages before attempting to make a point of some sort and succeeding in that endeavour. And the bad kind of rambling wherein a reader, realizes with a growing certainty, that the author's intention has been merely to dawdle and haphazardly branch out into topics with little to no substantial connection, occasionally inserting a philosophical musing or two to dispel some of the aimlessness of the narrative but with less than satisfactory results. 'The Pure Gold Baby' is an adherent of the latter kind of intolerable rambling. And Margaret Drabble is an eloquent rambler. It's good to hear her talking but there's also the moment of irritation creeping in intermittently when one is tempted to abandon reading and wonder aloud 'is this going anywhere?'.

Is this about the perils of motherhood? a feminist take on the dynamics of a mother-daughter relationship? a commentary on mental illness and neurological conditions? an ode to children afflicted by congenital disorders? 

I could not fathom. And that's majorly responsible for the half-hearted 3-star rating.

But a few days ago, by a stroke of good luck, I found Margaret Drabble's article in The Guardian on the deplorable treatment of senior citizens worldwide and her well-argued pitch for allowing them their right to die a dignified death (legalizing euthanasia in other words). And I found the connection with 'The Pure Gold Baby' developing instantly. The concept of growing old is inextricably linked with the idea of growing more and more incapable of being in control of one's life and that's one identifiable theme in this book. 

The eponymous pure, gold baby, a differently-abled child of sunny disposition who doesn't comprehend the complexities of the world and smiles and stumbles along her way through an uneventful life with the aid of her competent and headstrong mother has very little to do with the narrative but everything described within somehow revolves around her pitiable existence. Throw in the life story of a single mother, some theoretical anthropology, case studies of Zambian 'lobster-claw' children (born with physical deformities), examples of famed winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature with brain-damaged children like Kenzaburō Ōe, Pearl S. Buck and Doris Lessing, top it off with references to Jane Austen's mentally ill brother George Austen and what you get is a jumbled mess named 'The Pure Gold Baby'

To be fair to Ms Drabble, it is quite an aesthetically put together mess since she surely possesses the ability of fashioning a narrative out of sensitive issues without venturing into drippily sentimental territory. But that's about the only redeeming feature of this mess. 
That and the correct usage of the word 'prolepsis'

**Thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Netgalley for an advance reader's copy**


Also posted on Goodreads and Amazon.

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