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The Peppered Moth

3.3  ·  Rating details ·  685 Ratings  ·  83 Reviews
The prize-winning author of The Dark Flood Rises offers an “absorbing” portrait of three generations of women—inspired by her own family (The New York Times Book Review).
In the early 1900s, young Bessie Bawtry grows up in a mining town in South Yorkshire, England. Unusually gifted, she longs to escape a life burdened by unquestioned tradition. She studies patiently, dre
ebook, 384 pages
Published March 29th 2012 by Mariner Books (first published January 1st 2001)
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Aug 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After reading the first third of this book, I was left feeling quite angry and patronised about a narrative fictional account of working class life in South Yorkshire, England. As Yorkshire (and South Yorkshire itself) is my birthplace and former neck of the woods, I felt angry that lives, be they working class and difficult, should be portrayed on paper so dismally and without hope. I was also angry that these lives were being implicitly compared, contrasted and ultimately lambasted against aca ...more
Kasey Jueds
Sep 27, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I read so many Margaret Drabble novels right after I graduated from college, loved them all, and then, for some strange reason, stopped. So this is the first of her books I've finished in at least a decade. Not my very favorite, but still really really good. Her voice is wise and wry and the scope of this book is wonderfully broad; it's really a social history of Yorkshire and the culture of coal mining as well as a novel full of engaging (though not totally likable) characters. She's almost Dic ...more
Jan 10, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Margaret Drabble's "The Peppered Moth" is a fascinating exploration of family, heredity, genetics, and the history that links family members.

In the beginning, we meet a group of people interested in learning about their heritage. A scientist heads up the meeting, and is prepared to take DNA samples of the various participants.

We then move back and forth, between the past and present, exploring the primary characters from their childhoods to adulthood...and beyond.

Bessie Bawtry escaped her ordina
Jun 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not very good at summing up a work in a few sentences, so I'll just say that The Peppered Moth is about the legacy a mother leaves her daughters and the daughters of her daughters and so on. I related so very much to this story and reading Drabble's afterword about how she was actually writing about her mother when she wrote about Bessie, just endeared me to Drabble all the more. And even though the author and I have more than thirty years between our ages, I think she and I have much in com ...more
Apr 05, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: absolutely no-one
By the time I got to page 70, I was already skim-reading. A bad sign. Ghastly mannered style, skipping from past to present tense in the same paragraph, an omniscient narrator using the royal We ... then I came across this on page 129 (of 389), after the inexplicable marriage of two of the characters:
If this story were merely a fiction, it would be possible to fill in these gaps with plausible incidents, but the narrator here has to admit to considerable difficulty, indeed to failure. I have tri
Apr 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed it. The story spans three generations, but is mainly about Margaret Drabble's mother, who was obviously not an easy woman to live with. Although many of the themes are not what you might call uplifting, the wry sense of humor and the shift from the characters' to the author's point of view as well as the chronological jumps manage to keep the book very readable and entertaining. I was really impressed at how everything flowed smoothly - all this back and forth might have been co ...more
Nov 14, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This multigenerational saga about a young woman (Bessie Bawtry) who leaves a dirty Yorkshire coal town for a better life at Cambridge sounded promising to me. After I read, early in the book, about Bessie's strenuous efforts to get away from her home town, I was eager to see how her relationships with her family changed after she started her new life. She was so eager to make something different of herself; would she be able to stay close to the people she left behind as she changed? Her story t ...more
Dec 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The peppered moth of the title is a famous example of evolution at work in industrial England. My understanding from the book is that there were formerly two colors of moths in a particular moth family, a light and a dark (the peppered one). The original theory was that during the Industrial Revolution the light colored moths moths evolved darker colors to suit the dark air caused by smoke, coal soot etc. Over time this theory was discredited to be replaced by a more rigorous one: that the light ...more
Aug 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"I don't think it's (a novel) to teach, but I don't think it's simply to entertain, either. It's to explore new territory. To extend one's knowledge of the world. And to illumine what one sees in it," said Drabble in an interview in The Paris Review. "The Peppered Moth" does all of the above and more. Some reviewers have found the mixture of novel and biography (Bessie is a less than flattering portrait of Drabble's mother" and the shifting from telling a story to the point-of-view of the narrat ...more
Nov 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very intricate, intelligent book. I found it hard to break into the story, the characters were almost unforgiving in their unlikeable personalities, but one sleepless night I started reading and could not stop. Margaret Drabble's tale has heavy doses of her own family history and her own family members and the epilogue at the end of the book shows how she struggled to reconcile with the ghost of her difficult mother, Bessie Bawtry in the story. How much is your genetic & familial history a ...more
Oct 01, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The Peppered Moth is a tale about three generations of a family from a small coal-mining town in Yorkshire. It had so much potential, but Drabble's style is very annoying in that she tells you what you just read after you read it. The plot doesn't develop; she tells the reader what they are supposed to observe. The beginning was so slow I almost quit. Example: "We now see the character shrug and turn away" rather than "Faro shrugged and turned away." The story improved a bit in the middle and en ...more
Joan Colby
May 08, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Initially I felt I might not like this book based on some reviews that I read; however as an admirer of Drabble I decided to forge on and I am glad that I did. The book is based in part on the life of Drabble’s mother with whom she had a volatile relationship. It is always a danger to write about one’s relatives as it can be tough to maintain any objectivity. Regardless, the book as with most of Drabble’s work is very well written and absorbing.
Sep 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Who wouldn't give this Margaret Drabble book 5 out of 5 stars? It is a great book written by one of our finest authors which charts the lives of three generations of women from the early twentieth century up until the near present day. By no means a quick read, you will find this absorbing and compelling and you will be left thinking about the characters long after you have finished the book.
Apr 20, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This booked dragged and didn't have much to say in the end. Seemed to be the author trying to say something nice (in a novel format) about her evil mother (real life), but it doesn't end up saying much at all. Couldn't stop in the middle, but felt like it!
Aug 01, 2008 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I could not get through this book. Had to give it up
Jul 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very well written. A serious study of familial relationships.
Dec 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another wonderful Drabble book.
Jul 08, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
ugh didnt finish
Rachel Stevenson
I wanted to read this book as it is about South Yorkshire and the leaving of it. I identified Breaseborough as Mexborough, Coterhall as Conisbrough, Hammervale is the Don Valley, Bednerby Main must be Denaby Main colliery, and the big city, Northam, is Barnsley (although Barnsley and Mexborough also exist as places in the novel) - for my part, I used to visit Mexborough every Saturday morning to play (2nd) oboe in an extra-curricular orchestra and it wasn't all that bad. But I love Drabble's des ...more
Jan 03, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would like to have given this 4 stars, but remembering how long it took me to finish it, having set it aside several times because I was more interested in other books, I have to limit it to three. I agree with several other reviewers that the book drags in the beginning. There were also style issues that irritated me. Conversation is extremely limited, especially at the beginning. When it does occur, it is often inserted into the middle of paragraphs without quotation marks, as if the narrato ...more
Aug 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers who enjoy being transported
A thoroughly immersive and transportive telling of the life of Bessie Bawtry from the atmospheric origins in a south Yorkshire mining town, the unexpected and unexplainable promise of Bessie's intellect, the fragile transformation that is supported and cherished by her immediate society through the utter aloneness of that very evolution among those that would unwittingly and senselessly threaten her rise to the fluttering and perhaps guttering of her early auspicious dawning.

I don't know of man
Sep 17, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: p, 2014, female-author
I don't think I have struggled to complete a book in such a long while. I hate not to finish a book so I read 50 pages after completing another book in order to get it finished. The subject matter could have been quite interesting - looking at genes and how traits pass through the family line. It was just explained in such a boring way. It looked at 3 generations of females within the same family and described the ways in which their lives had changed. And there was no real excitement in any of ...more
Margaret Drabble set herself a very difficult task in this book and she probably did as good a job as anyone could with that plan. She based the main character on her mother, who she admits is a very, very unsympathetic character. She attempts to follow the combination of nurture and nature through four generations. Of her mother she said, "She was not funny. She was a highly intelligent, angry, deeply disappointed and manipulative woman." p.367 Of her own life, she said, "If I try very hard, I ...more
Joy Stephenson
At first I enjoyed the writing style; the leisurely pace and the carefully balanced sentences seemed quite poetic. However by about half way I was flagging and actually put it to one side to read a Val McDermid for light relief! Then I returned to this book and finished it, but came away feeling that, while some of the sentences were beautifully constructed, the whole structure of the novel didn't work. I have just read a Goodreads review which commented on the 'disjointed narrative' and that st ...more
Jul 26, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"The Peppered Moth" is a story about everything and nothing at the same time. It's a long, dully, heavy-going type of book. I firmly advise everyone searching for pleasant, fully entertaining and optimistic stories not to take up this one.
HOWEVER.. Surprisingly enough, some matters touch in The Peppered Moth had occurred to me interesting. The main topic of mother-daughter relationship had provoked me into many thoughts and reflections, for which I am thankful Mrs Drabble (even thought I might n
Aug 09, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The book jacket says "This book fairly bounces. Its zest derives in a large part from the perfectly sustained tone, which expresses humor without poking fun, and deep regret without sentimentality." I disagree, whole-heartedly! For me, this book dragged terribly, without direction, without any clear theme. Finally, about 2/3 of the way through, the characters and theme began to take shape, and I finished it. Can't say I'll choose another by this author any time soon. I will admit there were 3-4 ...more
Aug 17, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I have read and really liked most of Drabble's books. But I could not convince myself to like this one. Throughout I couldn't decide if she,as writer, really liked any of the characters because her narrative was sometimes negative, sometimes just a little less negative. She seemed to be exploring whether personal unpleasantness is genetic or acquired through (lack of) nurture. I was disappointed to learn this was based upon her mother but with many changes; as if she were trying to work out how ...more
May 16, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: england
The women in this novel are, at times, unbearable, ruled by selfishness, stern tradition or by suppressed emotions that make them hard and unfeeling. And yet, astonishingly, they are still of interest, still memorable, still mesmerising; the language is quick-witted whilst being symbolic and – for wont of a better word – academic. This is a novel worthy of study, and I wish I’d had more chance to study it.

A bit like Kate Atkinson's "Behind the Scenes", although I preferred that one to this.

Jun 05, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

After reading, Drabble's " The Seven Sisters" which I rated 5 stars ( see my review), I expected to feel similarly about "The Peppered Moth". Sadly that was not the case. Shortly after the captivating prologue, my attention waned and I found my self constantly fighting the urge to skim .
Perhaps because as Drabble states in the novel's afterward, " this is a book about my mother...." she lost the free flowing stream of creativity which I found in her other works.
Drabble is still a high ranking
Sylvia Vago
I liked the inter-generational approach and the focus on the women in the family. Realising that the novel was based on The life of Margaret Drabble's mother, it was treading on dangerous territory, but she qualifies the novel by telling the reader that memories are selective and at times unreliable. The life of the working-class in England was sharply characterised with the setting. The book reminded me of Jane Austen's depiction of the upper classes in her novels, although there is more delici ...more
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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
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“Maybe the human species has evolved too far, maybe we all move around too much, too pointlessly, and consciousness will implode upon itself.” 1 likes
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