While I was watching the advertisements on television last night I saw Sophy Brent. I have not set eyes on her for some months, and the sight of her filled me with a curious warm mixture of nostalgia and amusement.
‘The Garrick Year’ is Margaret Drabble’s second novel written when she was 24. She was drawing from her experience from her marriage to Clive Swift who was a member of the RSC. Drabble followed him to Stratford where she too had some minor roles.
I’ve read Drabble’s 80s novels but this is the first time I’ve read ‘The Garrick Year’. As a writer she is a social realist and here she shows an honest view of early motherhood at a time when gender roles were clearly defined, even within the more bohemian lifestyle of a theatrical marriage. Emma struggles with the demands of breastfeeding, lack of sleep, boredom, and a loss of self, made far worse when her actor husband, David, ups and moves them from London to provincial Hereford. Under-stimulated and lonely, she seeks some solace in a half-hearted affair.
We were not separate, at that point: we were part of the same thing still. I like things to be orderly and distinct, I do not much like the mess of union, it made me angry that his ash should be in my ashtrays, that his movements should be my movements; and yet that was how it was. He said that he would go to Hereford, and I, self-willed, distinct, determined Emma Evans, I said that I would go too.
They have two very young children and David is working anti-social hours. Emma does have a live-in French nanny but parenting and domesticity is driving her to death by isolation. But what stops Emma being one of those moany women of fiction is her cutting edge. There is a sharp banter between husband and wife. She might give in to him, but inside she is fighting, striving for perfection, even though she is not quite sure why.
The novel has an array of exasperating and exasperated characters, bit-part players, but the star of the show is Emma’s young daughter, Flora. She is a delight.
Interesting Fact: Margaret Drabble is the sister of AS Byatt. What a family.