The Radiant Way
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The Radiant Way (The Radiant Way trilogy #1)

3.73 of 5 stars 3.73  ·  rating details  ·  555 ratings  ·  46 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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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.
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
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
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
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...more
Dec 11, 2010 Shovelmonkey1 rated it 3 of 5 stars
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
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
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
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...more
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
Mar 21, 2014 Zora marked it as couldnt-get-into
Well-crafted at many levels, but I didn't care about these characters at all. Nothing was happening, and I came here to read low reviews and found out nothing ever does if I don't like the characters and there is no plot, I can't think of a reason to read on.
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...more
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...more
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
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.
Terry Tschann Skelton
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.
perhaps one of the worst things that can be said of a novel ... I could put it down. Easily. And did several times. I even thought about giving it up completely but my extreme lack of reading material kept me at it.

Every time I started to connect to one of the characters, i lost them again. In words. In babble of politics and things that happened in other times. In reminders that this was a book. In head hops and changes of perspective.
Ann Woodbury Moore
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.
Andrea Homier
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.
Dec 18, 2009 Carly 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?
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'.
Claire Noonan
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.
Sep 22, 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.
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.
Steve Cameron
diverting. no more.
Kelly Voelker
Not sure I can finish this one. The characters are interesting but the plot moves along at a snail's pace with tons of insight into the character's thoughts, most of it presented in an ethereal and intellectual way that does not appeal to me.
Barbara Sibbald
Drabble is brilliantly funny and cuttingly insightful. I thought this book might be dated, set, as it is in Thatcher's England, but its depictions of marriage,women's friendships and the ceaseless march of time, ring thrillingly true.
Nancy Howe
This is a wonderfully descriptive book about 3 English women living in the 1970s, all friends, but with much different aspirations. It starts with the women as high schoolers and then moves on to their lives 10 years later.
Drabble keeps you engrossed in her various women characters as their lives intertwine in their friendship from student days thru their marriages. She does great character development and keeps your attention.
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MARGARET DRABBLE is the author of The Sea Lady, The Seven Sisters, The Peppered Moth, and The Needle's Eye, among other novels. For her contributions to contemporary English literature, she was made a Dame of the British Empire in 2008.

Drabble has famously been engaged in a long-running feud with her novelist sister, A.S. Byatt, over the alleged appropriation of a family tea-set in one of her nove...more
More about Margaret Drabble...
The Red Queen The Millstone The Seven Sisters The Peppered Moth The Pure Gold Baby

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