Margaret Drabble, Author, Drabble, Author . Harcourt $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-15-100740-0

The narrator of Drabble's teasingly clever new novel, like several of her fictional predecessors (in The Witch of Endor and The Peppered Moth) is a lonely, middle-aged woman disillusioned with her life and wary about her future. Betrayed and divorced by her husband, the smug headmaster of a school in Suffolk, and estranged from her three grown daughters, Candida Wilton moves to a flat in a rundown, slightly dangerous London neighborhood. To fill her days, she takes a class in Virgil, until the adult-ed building is taken over by a health club, which she joins for lack of anything better to do. The first section of the narrative is Candida's computer diary, in which she tries to make sense of the circumstances that have led her to this narrow place in her life, and her tentative efforts to reach out and make new friends. Though she apologizes for "the bleating, whining, resentful, martyred tone I seem to have adopted," Candida's account has the fresh veracity of someone who's a newcomer to London and to the state of being single. While Drabble paints her as sexually cold and maternally reserved, given to French phrases and snobbish assessments, Candida is a character the reader grudgingly admires as she tries to maintain hope that she can turn her life around. Then a small miracle occurs. A financial windfall allows her to take some of her fellow Virgil aficionados and two old friends on a trip to Tunis and Sicily, following the footsteps of Aeneas. Candida learns more about her companions as the trip progresses and gains some insights into her own behavior. The narrative takes several surprising turns, throwing the reader as off-center as Candida has become and proving that Candida herself has not been candid. But Drabble has: Candida's evasive account accurately charts the psychological territory of one who is suddenly cast adrift. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 09/16/2002
Release date: 11/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-7531-1590-9
Hardcover - 306 pages - 978-0-7710-2904-2
Compact Disc - 978-0-7531-2563-2
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-7710-2905-9
Prebound-Sewn - 978-1-4177-0638-9
Paperback - 307 pages - 978-0-15-602875-2
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