Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman: Complete Short Stories by Margaret Drabble

Published together for the first time, A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman: Complete Short Stories includes fourteen short stories by Margaret Drabble, the author of seventeen novels. Although I had not read any of Drabble's novels I am always interested in discovering a new author and as a lover of short stories I figured that I'd start with these bite-sized doses of her writing before delving into something longer. Appearing in chronological order based on the date they were published, A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman begins in 1964 with the most recent story being from 2000, covering almost forty decades of Drabble's career.

The collection begins with the story, "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" and the first line, "It was the kind of party at which nobody got introduced." which immediately caught my attention. The story itself was one of my favourites in the book, centering around a man interested in catching the attention of a beautiful young woman at a fancy party. He manages this by lighting her hair on fire. Drabble captures the glamour of the moment perfectly.

Next in A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman is "Hassan's Tower" in which a man honeymoons with his wife, a woman he once loved deeply but now feels distant from. Reflecting on her he thinks:
"Others found her beautiful, so beautiful she must be, and it was his fault only if he had ceased to see it."
Drabble's writing is concise and observant, and the women she writes about are strong as well as distinctly English. I describe them this way because although many of the women are pushing against the norm of the time, the stories maintain a proper tone. Drabble writes in a way which is more polished than raw. Although her writing is technically flawless, at times I did crave a little more emotion in stories like "Faithful Lovers" which despite their tumultuous subject matter, in this case two people having an affair together, maintained an air of detachment.

Many of the characters are working women, from a playwright in "A Success Story" to a TV personality in "A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman" to a scientist in "The Caves of God". In such stories, particularly "A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman" and "Homework", Drabble attempts to reconcile the working woman who still loves her children and family and who wants to have both.

One of the most interesting things about a collection like A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman is the ability to see the writer evolve of time. Although the stories were not written in the exact order they were published, the characters still seem to age throughout the stories. She begins with a young man at a party, but later introduces a mother, then a woman who has already been divorced twice. Most of the later stories involve older women who somehow seek to escape to escape their ordinary lives. Although these later stories were still interesting, I found them less exciting and spontaneous, and perhaps it is simply my own age which makes it difficult to connect with such main characters.

The two stories of the collection which stuck with me the most were "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" and "A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman". What these stories have in common is Drabble's ability to quietly tell the opposite of what the reader would expect, and although in the end their resolution may not be explicit, she has given you just enough to get to know the characters and become intrigued by the outcome, wondering what will happen next. Ultimately, A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman is a collection of varying but quiet strength which would be interesting not only to those who are already familiar with Drabble, but also anyone looking for an introduction to this reserved but powerful writer.

Release Date: May 18th, 2011
Pages: 256
: ARC From Publisher
Buy the Book

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a great collection. Thanks for the recommendation!


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