Review: The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble 

To be young is to be fraught with uncertainty, but to be old is no picnic either, as explored in British author Margaret Drabble’s new novel, The Dark Flood Rises.

Somewhere in her seventies, Fran Stubbs is not yet ready to sit still “with a cat upon her knee.” An expert in housing for the elderly, Fran continues to drive across England to conduct property evaluations, delighting at the simple charms of chain hotels and pubs. But recently things have become more difficult: inspecting drainage ditches in the rain is exhausting; driving has become tiresome; she discovers the residents at housing facilities are near if not exactly her own age. Yet she keeps up the pace.

She is, in her own words, “a stubborn old fool.”

So, it seems, is Drabble. In order to escape the dull pitfalls that often befall brooding novels about death and aging, Drabble complicates things by weaving together narratives from members of Fran’s outer and inner circles including her homebound ex-husband, Claude, with his attractive nurse and overweight cat; her friend Josephine who lives in a retirement village meant to resemble a college campus; and her son Christopher who, through a series of events, finds himself an extended houseguest of two aged men living in the Canary Islands.

Despite some initial clunky transitions between plotlines, Drabble’s persistence pays off, and the work finds its purpose: That is, to celebrate and consider how illness, age, and death change relationships and our sense of self.

It’s a remarkable book in that it reaches beyond the wonder and anxiety of our mortality to pursue the spiraling side effects of death: the curiosity; “the yet more lonely future” for those left behind; the self-reflection; the humor; the doubt.  

More than a meditation, The Dark Flood Rises is a full, honest look past the horizon told in a manner befitting such an experiment: at once filled with wonder, awe, and celebration.