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The Radiant Way (The Radiant Way trilogy #1)

3.74  ·  Rating Details ·  764 Ratings  ·  63 Reviews
Twenty five years ago Liz, Alix and Esther were leading lights at Cambridge. Now they meet as old friends at a glittering New Year's Eve party to welcome in the 1980s. It is the dawn of the Thatcher era, and Britain is on the brink of great social and political upheaval. How will these three ambitious and confident middle-aged women survive the personal and professional ch ...more
Paperback, 396 pages
Published July 28th 1988 by Penguin Books (first published 1987)
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Jan 04, 2008 David rated it really liked it
This is one of my favorite novels by Margaret Drabble ("The Realms of Gold" is another). Interesting, fully realized, characters maneuver their way through midlife. Drabble populates her novels with smart, complex women, but gives them a humanity that often eludes, for instance, Iris Murdoch. As a result, you race through a Drabble book because you really want to know how things turn out for the characters, whereas Murdoch 's works often fail to rise above the level of cerebral puzzle.
Jun 14, 2011 Carol rated it it was amazing
I read a collection of Drabble's short stories recently and decided to read one of her novels. But she's written many novels, so where to begin? In a quick scan of her novels, the one about England at the dawn of Thatcherism intrigued me. So here we are with The Radiant Way. Too long? Perhaps, but male writers get away with going on and on. What's the plot? Well, there are three women who are dealing with changes in England, changes from a bent to socialism to a belief in capitalism. Husbands ar ...more
Dec 30, 2010 Lisa rated it really liked it
I was so sorry to come to the end of Margaret’s Drabble’s magnificent 1987 novel, The Radiant Way! What cheered me up was the belated discovery that it’s the first of a trilogy, so A Natural Curiosity (1989) and The Gates of Ivory (1991) went straight onto my wish-list to add to my Margaret Drabble shelf. I have become very fond of the characters Liz Headleand, Alix Bowen, and Esther Breuer, and I want to follow the further adventures of these brilliant women as they negotiate Thatcher’s Britain ...more
Feb 04, 2014 Ian rated it liked it
Shelves: 1001-books
Not sure whether to categorise this as being more the story of the lives of three women approaching middle age as the 1980s begins, or as the story of life in the 1980s shown by its effects on three women. Its a subtle difference of emphasis - back cover blurb very much suggesting the former, but after reading I favour the latter. The three women in question are all Cambridge University educated - Liz (successful psychoanalyst married to media mogul), Alix (teaches poetry to female convicts) and ...more
Sep 10, 2013 Boris rated it really liked it
The best Drabble novel I have read so far.
Why is it good? Because it addresses the most interesting and important requirements of a novel - it helps us how to understand life. What Drabble succeeded in portraying is life in the Thatcher decade seen through the eyes of three protagonists. For those of you unfamiliar with the Thatcher decade, it was a time of tremendous social upheaval, revolutionary in fact. Britain had survived the catastrophe of WWII by unwinding its empire, and going into gent
Jan 12, 2008 Kate rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, 1001
This novel about women was probably groundbreaking in 1987, when it was published. Sadly, it hasn't aged well, nor does it reflect well on the British middle-class in the '80s. It tells the story of three women who became friends at university and traces their lives through middle age. The novel opens on New Year's Even 1979, at the beginning of a decade that saw a tremendous amount of upheaval in Great Britain. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister during this time - she privatized a number of s ...more
Jun 04, 2012 Phillip rated it really liked it
I consumed this book like comfort food - and it wasn’t junk but carefully-prepared dishes like smoked ham with onion sauce. It gave me a warm feeling of comradery, which is the strength of TV series featuring an enduring set of friends (though this novel’s three female characters are too discerning to waste their time watching the telly). Alix is the most grounded; Esther is enigmatic, otherworldly; Liz vacillates between contentment and turmoil. The novel opens with a New Year’s Eve party given ...more
Jul 26, 2011 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My first attempt at reading Margaret Drabble was with her novel, ‘The Ice Age’, a book I found boring and stuffy and when I started to read The Radiant Way, my opinion of her wasn’t changing. Somehow I started to really get the story and now I have a different view of her.

The Radiant Way focuses on the lives of three middle-aged women; Liz, Alix and Esther and how they cope with the ever turbulent eighties. There are moments of happiness and depressive ones. However despite all that happens thei
Jun 28, 2010 Shovelmonkey1 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who can remember the 1980's
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: 1001 books list
This is a good book and probably significant to the 1001 books list as it defines the time in which it was set (1979 - 1985), offering analysis, via the character lives, on political and social issues such as the miners strike, unemployment, the rise of the Tory government and Margaret Thatcher. I enjoyed reading this but it really didn't blow me away. I suspect, at the risk of sounding smug, that i'm actually too young to appreciate some of the more significant aspects covered by this book. I w ...more
I had the same reaction to the Radiant Way that I had to Needle's Eye, I'm not sure if I truly liked it. I think part of the reason is that I found Way to be frustrating in the sense that I knew Drabble was making a comment on British society of a particular time, but since I lacked knowledge about the society of that time, it felt like some things went over my head. I know it's supposed to refer to Britain's Second Nation, but as I am not entirely sure what that is, the references confused me. ...more
Feb 10, 2011 Becky rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1001-list-books
At first, I really struggled with the Radiant Way. It's over punctuated to a crazy extent, and felt very stilted for the first fourty pages or so. But once I got to know Liz, Esther and Alix, I suddenly found myself utterly engrossed. Nothing really happens in the Radiant Way. It's a chronicle of normal lives passing slowly. The three friends meet at their interviews for Cambridge, and are still great friends when the books ends, some 50 odd years later. A string of somewhat weak men pass them b ...more
I don't know how many times I've read this dense, lovely, fascinating novel since my initial reading in 1989 but I love it more each time.
Feb 14, 2016 Clara rated it really liked it
The first book of an unintended trilogy on Thatcherite England, a place that, save a few bits of technology, is depresssingly just like now
Aug 17, 2013 Gina rated it it was amazing
It's been years since I wandered from "the radiant way" of Goodreads where I have been often happy recommending books. I will write only a half-review at this point because I am halfway through this most amazing book. I have dabbled in Drabble before and am wondering why a. I have not read her every word b. She is not ranked with Austen, Eliot and Lessing. Perhaps she is by cognoscenti but Drabble is not exactly a household word unless is is also the name of a kitchen product in the UK.

I will
Sep 06, 2015 Maryann rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1001
Alix, Esther and Liz have been friends for a long time. Their friendship has ebbed and flowed over the years as their lives have changed, but they never seem to lose their comfort with one another. The story is set in London in the 1980's, through tumultuous economic and political times.

There is something compelling about this book. Perhaps it's how well the trials and triumphs of the characters are portrayed. Perhaps it's the wonderful tempo and language of Drabble's writing. Whatever it is, r
Jan 21, 2009 Vicky rated it liked it
I was frequently exasperated while reading this book because despite the meticulous and credible detail, I never felt I saw the characters clearly or understood their motivations. "Why did she do/think/feel *that*?" I kept wondering. No doubt the clues were right there in the text, but I missed them.

Still, I read to the end and was not sorry I had. I admire Drabble's austere realism, her refusal to deliver anything but facts or to steer the narrative in a direction that might be satisfying to th
Jan 16, 2015 Amy rated it really liked it
This was a re-read for me. I read the trilogy 25 years ago, and enjoyed it very much then.

I love the humanity of Drabble's characters: she lays a foundation for each, which grounds their later actions and responses. I like the way chapters often jump ahead in time so that changes are established and the reader watches each character respond to changes in circumstance. While the characters are friends over a long time, the strength of their bonds waxes and wanes because of distance and time, avo
Oct 29, 2012 zespri rated it really liked it
Alix, Esther and Liz meet at Cambridge, and a bond is formed. They become close friends. They are gifted and ambitious and have the world at their feet, and bright futures ahead of them.

In the Radiant Way, the women are now middle aged and their friendship has endured and matured as each has gone her own way.

The novel opens at Liz's New Year's Eve party of 1979, the dawn of the Thatcher era. The novel follows the next five years in their lives, small happenings and little details.

Margaret Drabb
Nov 10, 2014 Anne rated it liked it
Good took me forever to finish this book but, once I start, I rarely give up on a book unless the writing is totally incomprehensible and I'm losing the will to live.

I liked Drabble's style but I'm not sure anything much happened although there are a lot of things going on during this politically significant era. It's a story about 3 women over a number of years; mostly mundane stuff but also non-mundane stuff. To be honest, some of the 'jolly hockey sticks' viewpoints were annoying b
Dec 02, 2013 Amy rated it really liked it
This book probably wouldn't be half as good or make as much sense to me (a 30-something American) if I hadn't recently viewed the BBC documentary on the 70s. You can probably find it on Youtube. Highly recommend watching that first.

My only complaint is that I would have rather discovered things about characters through their actions and conversations instead of just reading lists of things about them, but this was a minor complaint, as I really enjoyed the book.
Michael Elliman
Feb 02, 2013 Michael Elliman rated it really liked it
I surprised myself by liking this book - a lot. I capriciously took it with me on a holiday to Bali last September and ended up not being able to put it down. Amazingly intricate and absorbing accounts of middle-class life in Thatcher's Britain seen through the eyes and minds of three female protagonists. A lot of well-crafted overlapping interlinking plots too. Recommended as a good intro to a writer who might otherwise be overlooked by literary snobs like me - especially men, that is.
Ann Woodbury Moore
Mar 24, 2012 Ann Woodbury Moore rated it it was ok
Drabble is a very "literary" writer, and this novel about three college friends from the U.K.--starting on New Year's Eve 1979, the beginning of a new decade, when they are in their mid-40's--rises above typical "chick lit" books. However, although the women lead interesting lives, the novel is overly long, contains too much symbolism, and is unevenly focused, with psychologist Liz receiving the bulk of the attention.
Terry Tschann Skelton
Sep 10, 2011 Terry Tschann Skelton rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-library
So much better than I expected. I kept thinking back to the Henry James book I recently read. And it was also reminiscent of Jane Austen although it was set in the 1980's. Must be the English thing! A sociological study in a way of three women, college friends, who have remained in contact for over 30 years, weathering husbands, children, lovers, jobs, money, no money, and so forth. This is the first book by Drabble that I've read (I think) but will be looking for more.
Nov 27, 2011 Paddy rated it liked it
I thought I loved this book. And I did years ago, but re-reading it has led me to downgrading it to three stars, which is still a good showing. Tiresome tangents about too many people who aren't part of the plot but are meant to help illuminate an era. I just wanted to get on with the plot this go-round.
Claire Noonan
Jan 31, 2013 Claire Noonan rated it liked it
Peopled with likeable, realistic characters, this book is very enjoyable mostly. There were some stretches that I found hard reading but I persisted even so. There are multiple interwoven storylines, none very startling, but therein lies some of the author's skill- in making potentially scandalous subject matter seem ordinary.
Aug 17, 2011 Jon added it
I confess I only made it half way through this one. It is beautifully written and very subtle in the fine distinctions it makes about the characters' personalities and interests; but finally those characters and their problems just didn't interest me. And, dauntingly, it is the first book of a trilogy.
May 19, 2015 Judy rated it liked it
The novel follows the lives and careers of three women who meet as undergraduates at Cambridge University in the early 1980's. It is an interesting reflection on social and political events of the time, woven around the personal lives and friendship of these women, with a mystery sub-plot which adds a thriller element. I found it a good read.
Dec 31, 2012 Eva rated it really liked it
Enjoyed revisiting slice of 1980s, the Thatcher years. It was almost like reading a social commentary with a cast of (mostly unlikeable) characters buying into the notion of real social mobility (was it ever thus?) Poignant when you see how things have come full circle in the noughties parallel universe of 'haves' and 'have nots'.
Carly Svamvour
Dec 11, 2009 Carly Svamvour marked it as to-read

OK . . . I've had it on my bookshelf (at home here) for years - or what seems years, anyway.

I just read what you folks have to say about it . . . surprised - know what I thought it was about?

By the title, I thought it was a 'spiritual'.

So . . . shows ta' go ya', eh?
Andrea Homier
Jul 30, 2009 Andrea Homier rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book. The writing is very cerebral, with little plot, but a thoughtful examination of five or so years of three intellecutal, middle-aged English friends' lives during the Thatcher years -- how they responded to the larger sociopolitical environment and to events in their personal lives. Now that I have finished the book, I will miss these women.
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Dame Margaret Drabble was born in Sheffield in 1939 and was educated at Newnham College, Cambridge. She is the author of eighteen novels including A Summer Bird-Cage, The Millstone, The Peppered Moth, The Red Queen, The Sea Lady and most recently, the highly acclaimed The Pure Gold Baby. She has also written biographies, screenplays and was the editor of the Oxford Companion to English Literature. ...more
More about Margaret Drabble...

Other Books in the Series

The Radiant Way trilogy (3 books)
  • A Natural Curiosity
  • The Gates of Ivory

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“Since childhood, since her early school days, New Year’s Eve had possessed for her a mournful terror: she had elected it to represent the Nothingness which was her own life, the solid, cheerful festival which had seemed to be the lives of others.” 1 likes
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