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The Witch of Exmoor

3.37  ·  Rating details ·  540 ratings  ·  70 reviews
In a “profoundly moving, intellectually acute” novel (Philadelphia Inquirer) that is “as meticulous as Jane Austen, as deadly as Evelyn Waugh” (Los Angeles Times), Margaret Drabble conjures up a retired writer besieged by her three grasping children in this dazzling, wickedly gothic tale.
Paperback, 264 pages
Published October 15th 1998 by Mariner Books (first published 1996)
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3.37  · 
Rating details
 ·  540 ratings  ·  70 reviews

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Feb 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: five-stars-books
5 "caustic, cynical, uproarious, ironic, sharp" stars !!

2017 Honorable Mention with High Distinction Read

This is a book to relish !!

Freida Haxby is an intellectual, a trouble-maker, a recluse, a sibyl, a mess !! She has bought an old grand decaying hotel on the English moors and estranged herself from her adult children who worry about their inheritance as well as their mother's state of mind.

This book follows this mother and her brood as well as the spouses and the grandchildren with wit, i
Jul 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
An entertaining book about a willful and eccentric writer and her three adult children, in Britain in the 1990s. The treatment of the characters is clinically cold; they squirm about like specimens in a lab, and the narrator's constant collusion with the reader ("what do you think X does?," "I'm afraid this is really what they think," "we'll come back to her in a bit but first let's..." and so on) brings out this detachment from the characters even more. Almost inevitably (is this right?), such ...more
Aug 02, 2007 rated it liked it
i liked the ending a lot. this book is very intense. british.
Nov 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
‘The Witch of Exmoor’ begins with the adult children of Frieda Haxby Palmer having a weekend together for the purpose of deciding what to do about their mother. She has, they feel, lost her mind or gone senile. The problem is, there is not one sign that she is incompetent, except by the standards of her upper middle class, consumerist children. What they call signs of a failing mind are selling the house they grew up in, suing the government over tax issues, making a public investigation and sce ...more
finished.......not quite what I thought it would be, review soon.

5.10.2010. Moving into the 2nd chapter. This is more like it.!!!!

Only into it to the first chapter...not grabbing me so far, but I am stressed = swapping to something to carry me away to the land of Nod. Get back to this one later.

(one of 24 books found today at 2nd hand shop...24 for $10!)
Dec 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
The mess that is the Kindle version of this book drove me nuts! Page after page with the code #x2013, spaces in the middle of words, and more. It was a mess. None the less, and for reasons I really can't quite fathom, I almost couldn't put down this book.
Jun 17, 2012 rated it it was ok
There are a few interesting commentaries here about social class, family relationships, and especially the squabbling that goes on over inheritance. BUT in general I thought it was boring, lacking in suspense, and in need of a good editor.

First, there are several points in which Drabble contradicts herself. She describes Nathan as very ugly (pg 3) and then later as an attractive man (pg 17). Certainly we come to discover that he is a bit of a playboy, but how is it that he is simultaneously unat
Orna Ross
Nov 01, 2012 rated it liked it
`Let them have everything that is pleasant. The windows are open on to the terrace and the lawn, and drooping bunches of wistaria deepen from a washed mauve pink to purple. The roses are in bloom.' With an opening paragraph like this, where else could we be but England?

But we are reading Margaret Drabble, so ye olde English scent of roses soon fades. The people of this novel inhabit the same country that the author outlined in her acclaimed 1980s trilogy: "Not a bad country... just a mean, cold,
Stephen Hayes
We rejoined the City of Tshwane library, and I saw a bock by Margaret Drabble, and as
she was one of the editors of The Oxford Concise Companion to English Literature, which I bought 15 years ago and refer to frequently, I thought I had better read something written by her as well.

By the end of the first chapter, I wasn't sure I wanted to continue reading it, because it was all about ordinary people doing ordinary things. Ordinary middle-class people, that is. Actually fairly rich upper middle-cl
Feb 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Two-thirds of The Witch of Exmoor is about successful author Frieda Palmer and her relationship with her three children and their spouses.
Frieda, who decides to move to a ruin of a house in Exmoor to examine her life and write her memoirs, is considered "cracking up" and "eccentric" by her family. There are discussions over who should be looking out for mother. Frieda is merely independently living her life and not caring much what other people think of it.
While her children think her "crack
Jul 16, 2010 added it
Two-thirds of The Witch of Exmoor is about successful author Frieda Palmer and her relationship with her three children and their spouses.
Frieda, who decides to move to a ruin of a house in Exmoor to examine her life and write her memoirs, is considered "cracking up" and "eccentric" by her family. There are discussions over who should be looking out for mother. Frieda is merely independently living her life and not caring much what other people think of it.
While her children think her "cracker
Rebecca Burke
May 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
I want to give St. Margaret the best rating but don't want to steer newbies to this book of hers. Better to stick with her earliest novels or her trilogy. The Witch of Exmoor has many fine moments, chiefly its characterizations and sharp social satire of the upper middle class in English society. Alas, the disjointed narrative becomes irritating. She has some things she wants to tell you about the state of modern England, and I am totally open to hearing those things, being political myself. But ...more
Feb 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own, brit-lit
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Janet Gardner
Feb 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
While plenty happens in this book—including death, madness, drug abuse, and the keeping and unraveling of several secrets—it’s really not a plot-driven novel at all. Rather, it’s a novel of ideas. The characters talk a lot about big ideas, particularly how to define and/or move towards The Just Society, but they actually spend their time worrying about far more mundane things: their health, their jobs, and so forth. (This, of course, is part of the point: what we claim to believe and care about ...more
This is my first Drabble since The Ice Age almost 30 years ago. While the plot was interesting enough to hold me, the tone drove me nuts. The entire book was written with an unseen, offstage narrator ("and now we look at the D'Anger family" or "here is Gogo") and all I could hear was a mash-up of the "Mutual of Omaha"'s narrator and one of those plummy BBC voices. Very distracting. Had that not been there, I'd have given this four stars.

It was also distracting - unintentionally so - to have a ma
Feb 13, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Our library is doing a 'Blind Date with a Book' during the month of February, and this was the book that I chose. All the books are wrapped, so that you don't know the name of the book. So, I don't think I would have chosen this book on my own, but glad for the experience of reading it. It takes place in England, and there are some definitely British words. There is a smattering of 'bad' words - not necessary to the plot, but included nonetheless. There were also a number of words I had never he ...more
Sep 10, 2008 rated it it was ok
Decrepit. The storyline of this book meandered along the edge of boring all the way from start to finish, without even offering a likeable character. Seriously. Not one. And to top it all off, we get a "heavenly" glimpse of the characters who were killed off - on some paradise of an island. It was interesting to hear their view of how they died, but still...

I gave it the second star because I do like her writing style. I like the remarks to the reader, and I enjoyed her vocabulary. I actually k
Joan Colby
Aug 05, 2010 rated it liked it
Reading Margaret Drabble is tantamount to having a wide ranging conversation with intellectuals. Her digressions into philosophies, politics, history and nature are fascinating. The Witch of Exmoor is mainly a story of a dysfunctional family—all the members of which are more effectively portrayed than Frieda (the witch) herself. The lack is that while Frieda is regarded as a noted author and intellectual, none of this is actually shown; instead we know Frieda by her eccentricities which also don ...more
My first Margaret Drabble! I liked how it opened with a family dinner, as I’m a sucker for books that feature food. It takes a while for us to actually meet the ‘witch’, that is, Freida Palmer, the matriarch of the family who has just moved into a ruin of a house in Exmoore, as quite a bit of the story is about her three children and their respective families. Frieda then disappears about halfway through the novel, and the focus is then back on her family’s exploration of their eccentric mother. ...more
Sep 08, 2013 rated it did not like it
I generally adore Margaret Drabble, but this was a hard slog. I had to force myself to finish it. The problem was that her agenda of a fair society interfered with her usually adept story telling. She is the omniscient author here who keeps showing how she's manipulating the characters . Why is it important that we know that? What does it add? Nothing, as far as i could see. People appear and disappear, and we never care enough. Themes mingle and separate and everything grows murkier. When the r ...more
Jun 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
As usual I really enjoy how Drabble juxtaposes the personal and domestic against broader cultural and political landscapes with narrative lucidity and verve. I enjoy her lack of sentimentality and comfortable climactic conclusions. The story of the three children and their families' relationship with their eccentric author mother explores postcolonialism and class and then it ends. The finale is both playful and a little ambiguous too. Probably a tad more campy & frolicsome than some of her ...more
Dec 29, 2014 rated it liked it
I took a two week holiday in the middle of reading this, didn't want to lug around a hardcover book, so that made for a disjointed experience. Quite a number of major characters to keep (or in my case, lose) track of. It was published in 1996, so it was interesting to think about 20 years of changes to technology and the social-political world. I do like her writing, lavish word choice and deftly drawn characters. Still, for me a bit of an odd book. It was okay, but I've liked other Drabble work ...more
Sep 08, 2010 rated it did not like it
I got about 50 pages into Drabble's post-modern political family saga and was too bored to go on. The book is well written, with detail and character development that I generally enjoy, but the new money snobbish family was totally uninteresting, and I couldn't be bothered to care about the game they were playing as a family - whether or not they would role the dice and live in a totally new society without the guarantee of their current level of privilege. So with this barrier I decided to stop ...more
May 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
I loved this book! Freida is a wonderful character, quite wicked and eccentric. She moves to an old rundown mansion on the edge of nowhere to finish out her life and write her memoirs. And to be left alone by her meddling family.

And then we have her family of two daughters and a son, with interesting and fallible spouses and children, who think that this is not how an old woman should exist.

When Freida disappears, her family plunge into chaos, and their tidy lives unravel.
Aug 24, 2007 rated it did not like it
One star - I really hated this book. I should have stopped reading this the many times I thought about but I kept going until the end - too bad, it was a waste of time. I not only didn't care about any of the characters, I really didn't like any of them. Boring plot, boring conversations, no one was happy & no one deserved to be.
Carol Wakefield
Apr 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I'm a new fan of Margaret Drabble. I'll seek out other of her books. Loved the wry social commentary accompanying the family story. Enjoyed dribbles assessments of her characters, their strengths and their weaknesses and her final accounting of their futures. All told as if by an observer from afar. Great fun, many giggles along the way. On to more Drabble!
Nov 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, england
I love Margaret Drabble. Her characters are great and wrestle with a myriad of contemporary issues. Frieda is one of the best characters ever -very complex, lovable and hateful at the same time.

In reading other reviews it bothers me when people will rate a book that they have not finished reading. That has happened alot with this book.
Luce Cronin
Feb 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Drabble peppers this books with analyses of the British middle class and its seemingly "empty" life. She creates characters that are sadly very believable; Freida, a most un-typical mother, the hear of the clan, a thinker, a writer, an intellectual...It makes for a very thought provoking read about the state of the lives of the middle class and all its illusions and pretences.
Dec 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
Feminist writer and scholar, Freda Haxby Palmer, entering eccentric old age, has purchased a crumbling mansion in southwest England. Her three middle-aged, never welcomed children, (and spouses) are in various states of alarm about their eventual inheritances. This is a highly readable and witty update on Shakespeare's King Lear theme.
Oct 08, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read while on the Amtrak train between NY and Boston. It's a well observed and written, I really loved Frieda, the character reminded me of the Warning poem by Jenny Joseph 'When I am an old woman I shall wear purple'.

This is not a cheering book on the whole it's a rather sombre read, but enjoyable nonetheless.
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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