lunes, 20 de agosto de 2012

The Needle's Eye by Margaret Drabble

The Needle’s Eye by Margaret Drabble is at one level a story of two marriages, the Vassiliou and the Camish. Its focus is on two characters, Rose Vassiliou and Simon Camish who, even at their first meeting, find themselves inexorably drawn to one another.

Rose Bryanston was brought up in an upper middle class English family. The rambling country house in Norfolk figures large towards the end of the book when Rose and Simon make an unscheduled weekend visit to her parents. Rose has married Christopher Vassiliou, of Greek origin, and has settled near Alexandra Palace in north London. They have three children and have separated. Rose has also inherited and has given the money away, taking to heart the Bible’s advice on rich men and the eyes of a needle. Perhaps that’s why Christopher has left her. They are squabbling over the children, as one would expect when rational people, so capable in the area of analysis and reason, apply their powers selfishly.

Simon Camish is a specialist on labour relations and trade unions. He is also a writer and is co-authoring a book on aspects of his specialism. He is also resident in north London and also has three children of his own. He is married to Julie who, despite everything we are told, does not appear to be the kind of person who would fall for a man whose main interest was trade unionism. Her dismissive materialism is often tinged with a barbed anger.

These characters soon begin to develop their obvious penchant for thought and analysis. They seem to be capable of endless, un-paragraphed free association from almost any starting stimulus and leading to any imagined end. And it soon becomes a process apparently without end. Consciousness streams forth in long, unbroken flows, often appearing strangely directionless, sometimes almost repetitive. At times Simon and Rose seem to be so obsessed with themselves that they seek to analyse even the mundane, a process that always endows the mundane with deep, if passing significance. It seems that they seek implications in every catchable breath. Christopher, Rose’s husband, on the other hand, seems to be direct and largely pragmatic, while Julie, Simon’s wife,  is often short tempered, dismissive, prejudiced and more inclined to worry about the curtains than the eternal.

By the middle of the book, we are completely engrossed with these people but, to be charitable, we can hardly associate with them. They dwell on every thought, meander through past and future, while apparently taking any present for granted. Rose and Christopher are fighting over the custody of their children, but we feel that they themselves are the only people in their thoughts.

Eventually, The Needle’s Eye does develop its own direction. But it is a long journey and, despite a drive from London to Norfolk, we feel we have travelled very little from where we started. But then life is like that, isn’t it? How many plots do we live? In The Needle’s Eye we share the lives of people, perhaps live them a little. We become participants, not mere observers, but we never really know the characters because they probably don’t really know themselves. I suppose we are different nowadays…

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