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.