Fran is an unwitting Virgil who leads us through the circles of the hell of aging; but it is a hell where pragmatic thoughtfulness reigns and functional architecture is sustenance ... What sort of house shall I die in? is Drabble’s unyielding question. Its veneer is serviceable — lever rather than screw — but its intent is not. Its intent is scriptural, invoking Ecclesiastes; or Socratic, wooing the examined life; or both at once ... The Dark Flood Rises is not a therapeutic, eschatological, sociological, political or even philosophical novel. Never mind that it can be mistaken for any or all of these. In one way, it is a hymn to an inherited England, to its highways, gardens, streets, hotels, neighborhoods, landscapes, parking lots, stoneworks, cottages, secluded and public spaces ... But this humane and masterly novel by one of Britain’s most dazzling writers is something else as well, deeper than mere philosophy: a praisesong for the tragical human predicament exactly as it has been ordained on Earth, our terminal house.
Margaret Drabble has written a novel about aging and death, which for American readers should make it as popular as a colostomy bag. That’s a pity because Drabble, 77, is as clear-eyed and witty a guide to the undiscovered country as you’ll find ... The irony of Fran’s perpetual motion — and a source of the novel’s humor — is that she’s annoyed by the way her fellow senior citizens resist their golden years, years that now stretch on further for more people than ever before ... There’s nothing schematic about the range of these characters, but eventually it becomes clear that they make up a kind of catalogue of doom ... Running through all these aging lives are recurring references to a London revival of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days. Although less famous than his Waiting for Godot, it’s the perfect complement to Fran’s manic efforts to stay above the ever-rising grains of sand collecting around her. Drabble never sinks to the level of Beckett’s despair, but she’s refreshingly frank about the tragicomedy of aging. Remembering one of her dearly departed friends, Fran thinks, 'She never said a dull word.' The same might be said of Margaret Drabble.
She's an unforgettable character, steely but likable, and The Dark Flood Rises is a beautiful rumination on what it means to grow old ... The Dark Flood Rises jumps from character to character, from England to the Canaries, but the transitions are never sudden or jarring. It's a narrative style that reflects Fran herself ... while the subject matter of the book is inescapably, well, dark, Drabble lightens the mood with some genuinely clever humor ... It's a truly lovely novel, and when Fran reaches an emotional breaking point it's hard not to cry with her, for her. This isn't a sentimental book, but it's a deeply emotional one. Drabble doesn't ask the reader to feel sorry for Fran; instead, she invites us to live in her world, to consider how sad, how funny, how genuinely absurd aging is.
Not at all peaceful, not at all cozy, this novel. There is virtually no plot, only characters and themes, making The Dark Flood Rises feel at times more like an extended meditation (in places perhaps a bit overextended) than a novel ... escapes being unbearably depressing by the brilliance of its characterizations, the cleverness of its observations and the indomitable spirit of Fran, who reflects that 'old age itself is a theme for heroism. It calls upon courage.' This brave novel displays that courage.
...in terms of conventional narrative development, very little happens ... The compensation for the reader is that these characters are brilliantly drawn ... Yet beneath the apparently placid surface, Drabble’s novel seethes with apocalyptic intent ... It would all be a bit much to take, were it not for the stoicism of Fran herself, a woman who chooses to live in a dodgy north London council block, secretly rather likes dining in Premier Inns and cannot refrain from watering pot plants in airport lounges and lavatories.
...the 20th novel by this invaluable woman of letters, is unfiltered and unsentimental, but also curious and appreciative, for old age, Ms. Drabble writes, is 'a theme for heroism' ... One can spot a late style here in Ms. Drabble’s near total disregard for narrative structure. The Dark Flood Rises isn’t a story so much as a set of vividly detailed snapshots of the routines of aging. The pace, too, can feel oddly impatient ... The virtue of such a busy canvas, however, is the sense of connection that it fosters. Ms. Drabble’s beautiful 2013 novel, The Pure Gold Baby, explored the traditional role the English village had in caring for the mentally ill, and her new novel again takes up the question of collective responsibility. Ms. Drabble’s overarching insight is that no one grows old alone ... Death and accidents are the grim commonplace in these late bonds. Ms. Drabble doesn’t shy from the fact that her characters 'live in the world of obituaries.' But they are a community nonetheless, and one drawn with the perception and understanding of a great novelist with a lifetime of experience behind her.
...a timely and relevant novel about the way we live (and die) now ... The book's central character, Francesca Stubbs, is in her 70s, but she is no 'timid soul.' She is energetic and peripatetic, driving across England for her job with a charity foundation that aims to improve living arrangements for the elderly ... Her family, including an ex-husband and two children, and a circle of friends and co-workers are the spokes that radiate out from the center in this discursive, anthropological novel. Death in its many varieties is here: sudden and unexpected, lingering and agonizing, even a slow decline into the grave that one character seems to be enjoying immensely ... But The Dark Flood Rises is far from being a dour meditation on mortality ... Reading Drabble is like having a brilliant and companionable acquaintance delve into the ways of the world across a dinner table. The subject may be death, but she still brims with life.
Drabble’s characters have continued to age along with her, and she brings her attention (and her wit) to the quality of aging as experienced by a group of friends approaching their 80s in her latest novel (her 19th!), The Dark Flood Rises ...[a] mordant and thought-provoking work ... There is not much plot in The Dark Flood Rises. Friends meet, have drinks, exchange gossip ... Behind this web of aging and personal relationships, looming environmental and political disasters threaten to transform the only England she has ever known ... Though one might think resolution and clarity best reflect the aged creative mind, an equal argument can be made for tenacity, intractability and a certain comfort with contradiction, all of which are found in this novel. More witty than morbid, The Dark Flood Rises may not be for everyone, but this wise assessment of aging by one of England’s most respected writers deserves our readerly attention.
Margaret Drabble, for her 20th novel, has chosen for its title and epigraph a refrain from Lawrence’s valedictory The Ship of Death: there are numerous endings in the book, but it is Lawrence’s restless revolt against mortality which hovers spectacularly throughout ... Fran is an archetypal Drabble character, an older version of her heroines from the 1960s and early 1970s: educated, dogged, middle class, self-improving ... Mordant wit and a strong humanitarian concern coexist in this novel; Lawrence’s ship of death becomes a metaphor for desperate people fleeing war and famine in rickety boats, washed up on inhospitable European beaches ... In terms of its plotlessness, The Dark Flood most closely resembles Drabble’s 1980 book, The Middle Ground, a series of contemplations on urban disaffection. While her writing can be high-handed, the novel is a significant achievement, admirable and truthful.
...numerous other vividly drawn characters swarm in a text notable for Drabble’s customarily sharp social observations and willingness to let her plot amble where it will. The final destination of several key figures should come as no surprise, given their age, but the author evokes a palpable sense of sorrow and loss nonetheless ... The lack of narrative drive may irk some readers, but those who appreciate her able combination of intelligence, wit, and rue will willingly follow Drabble into the sunset.
This searingly sad but often hilarious novel chronicles the last dance of a few old codgers, and Drabble has filled her tale with characters desperately trying to make sense of life and loss, of beauty, talent, missed opportunities, faded passion ... Each character has a passion — classical music, art history, Beckett, Unamuno, and Yeats — which gives rise to Drabble’s exposition on issues that dog her. And expound she does, on 'effortless, meaningless, soulless beauty,' on the philosophy of free will and coincidence (including Jung, Catholicism, and moral luck), indeed on 'what on earth literature is for.'