Book Review of Margaret Drabble’s The Sea Lady

The Sea Lady
Margaret Drabble
Literary fiction
Mariner Books (reprint)
2008; originally published in 2006
368 pages

This novel by Margaret Drabble was first published in 2006, and shows the writer herself at her most accomplished. It has the ocean, lost love, childhood memories, and looking back on one’s life all in in the space of 368 pages. This novel deserves to be a classic of modern literature.

A marine biologist, Humphrey Clark, and a scholar and feminist, Ailsa Kelman, are traveling back to Ornemouth, England, where they stayed at for one summer during their childhoods, to receive honorary degrees at the new university established there for their work in their respective fields, he by train, she by plane. As they return to the place which was the source of important childhood memories, and which determined the course of their lives, Humphrey and Ailsa reminisce about their past, shared and apart, and learn that they cannot completely detach from each other, and about the power of the sea to influence their lives.

What makes The Sea Lady a good read is Drabble’s portrayal of the lessons Humphrey and Ailsa learn throughout the novel. Each page keeps you wondering what is going to happen next, and therefore keeps you reading until the last page. Drabble writes in a strong, effective style, and helps you understand what connects (and continues to connect) Humphrey and Ailsa, whether it is expected or unexpected. Throughout the novel, she gives you a taste of what modern-day life in England is like, and also gives you a visit to the past, giving you a sense of what life was like in England back when Humphrey and Ailsa were growing up. This is helpful if you have never been over there, and want to go over there someday, or if you have already been there, it helps you relive what you experienced on your visit. All throughout her novel, Drabble takes you on a tour of the past and the present, and leaves you wanting more.

Drabble also absorbs you in the life of her characters, both past and present, by going back and forth in time, from their childhoods to their present, and in the process shows you how Humphrey and Ailsa are connected, and continue to be connected in spite of what goes on in their lives. On the whole, The Sea Lady is absorbing reading; I spent a whole weekend reading it, and I read most of the book in one evening, because it is that absorbing. If you are looking for great literature which will keep you interested from the first page to the last, and will help you kill time on a sunny afternoon, or anywhere else, The Sea Lady is one of the most perfect books to meet that goal.

My personal rating:

4 ½ stars.

About Margaret Drabble:

Margaret Drabble is a world-renowned British writer. She was born in 1939, and has written many novels describing life in a changing England throughout her career. Her latest book is The Pure Gold Baby, published in 2013.


The Sea Lady (ISBN: 0156034263), reprint published by Mariner Books, 2008; originally published in 2006.

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