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A Summer Bird-Cage

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  762 ratings  ·  75 reviews
Sarah had come home from Paris to be a bridesmaid for her sister Louise. When a child, Sarah had adored her elder sister, but Louise had grown up to be an arrogant, selfish, cold and extravagant woman. She was also breath-takingly beautiful. The man she was to marry, Stephen Halifax, was a successful novelist, very rich and snobbishly unpleasant. From Sarah's first night a ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published April 26th 1973 by Penguin (first published 1963)
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Laura Anne
Oct 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book - this is my type of my book, my type of writer. Margaret Drabble's first novel, published in 1963 when she was 24. It tells the story of two sisters, Sarah who is our narrator, and her older sister, Louise. Both have just recently left "Ox" as they call it and have launched themselves into life - trying to work out where they belong, what options are open to them and both more or less fearful of the narrow paths of marriage and babies.

This story isn't really about plot - the e
Jul 13, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2019, modern-lit
Another book picked up on a whim in a second hand bookshop. This was Margaret Drabble's debut novel, and it is difficult not to see some of her relationship with her own sister A.S. Byatt in this tale of sibling rivalry among recent graduates in early 60s London.

For me this was interesting purely for what it shows about her future development as a writer - the story itself is rather slight and I don't think anyone would consider this one her best work.
Oct 11, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: big-white-square
C'mon girls! Do you believe in love? Cos Margaret's got something to say about it. And it goes something like this...

...don't marry heartless homosexual sadists for their money. Marry warm heterosexual actors who are kind to children.

(Also, be less of a bitch to your sister).

That's about it.
Sep 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
One of the pleasures of the 1962 list in My Big Fat Reading Project has been reading first novels by authors I have always wanted to read or authors whose later novels I have read.

Examples: Cover Her Face by P D James, In Evil Hour by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Letting Go by Philip Roth, Love and Friendship by Alison Lurie.

Margaret Drabble is the sister of A S Byatt. In the usual way of the media, much has been made over the years about their sibling rivalry. Actually both women have been outspoke
Sarah Bennett, who went straight from university in Oxford to Paris for want of a better idea of what to do with her life, is called home to Warwickshire to be a bridesmaid in the wedding of her older sister, Louise, to Stephen Halifax, a wealthy novelist. Afterwards, Sarah decides to move to London and share a flat with a friend whose marriage has recently ended. As the months pass, she figures out life as a single girl in a big city and attends parties hosted by Louise (back from an extended E ...more
Sep 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
A Summer Bird-Cage by Margaret Drabble is a book with a hyphen in the title. This is apposite, since it presents a tale of two sisters, Louise and Sarah who, in a short but intense period of their lives, realise that there is an enduring bond between them, even if that bond may be no more than an agreement to compete.

Louise and Sarah have both been to Oxford. Louise is three years older than Sarah, who estimates that her sister is thus also three inches taller than herself. They are both beautif
Jul 13, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Now, this is a period piece. Two middle-class sisters, Sarah and Louise, three years apart, in the early '60s after graduating ("coming down") from Oxford, are finding their ways in the world. This is told from younger Sarah's point of view. She's an intelligent, wry, bookish, romantic girl who's always taken second place to the more beautiful Louise. Neither one is close to the other, nor to her parents really. Louise marries a rich, boring, successful author, brings Sarah home from Paris to En ...more
Aug 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Drabble knows how to write about the complexity of sisterly love.
You don't always like the people you love.
So much truth, so much wit.
Primrose Jess
Jun 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-owned
"My sister, I should say, is an absolutely knock-out beauty. She really is. People are silent when she enters rooms, they stare at her on buses, they look round as she walks down the street."

This is a novel of two sisters. Younger sister, Sarah, narrates a period of her life when her older sister, Louise, gets married and starts a life with her husband Stephen. I found it to be quite a cerebral book. Sarah is a true academic at heart and is always in her head. We, the reader, get to join in on
Dec 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Written in 1962, this book takes us back to the beginning of the era when women were starting to push back against the assumption that, even if they went to college, they would marry and have kids right after. Sarah, our narrator, is a bit surprised that her older sister, the stunningly beautiful Louise, is not just marrying, but marrying Stephen, a writer who is distinctly odd. The sisters have never been close, so Sarah has no idea why Louise might be marrying who she does. Stephen, an author ...more
Dec 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a sheer delight of a book and not quite a frivolous as the synopsis led me to believe, though perhaps that's more of a result of time passing and a look back at this novel, now almost 60 years old. There is much to consider about family, sibling relationships and the pros and cons of marriage. The novel does take you back though to a place in your 20s when the whole world is spread out in front of you and seems full of choices and the narrative voice of Sarah, the story teller, and her ...more
Jan 30, 2010 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"Again, I did know what she meant, and the joy of having had so many intelligible things said to me during one morning sustained me for the rest of the day. Odd that one doesn't mind being called insensitive, selfish, and so on, provided that one can entirely understand the grounds for the accusation. It should be the other way round; one should not mind only when one knows that one is innocent. But it isn't like that. Perhaps the rare and simple pleasure of being seen for what one is compensate ...more
Feb 08, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: favorites
I read this on the back of Drabble's reputation and the fact I love A S Byatt's work. I was curious whether two sibling writers could inspire me equally. Well I was disappointed. Far from being a "sparkling" debut novel, as the jacket blurb promised, I found this as dry as toast.
In Byatt's Frederica Potter #3 novel we find her eponymous hero pondering over the fact that "young ladies just down from Oxford, ought not to write novels about young ladies just down from Oxford" and on reading A Summ
May 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: may-2017
Such an intriguing novel, with fully fleshed out characters, and dashes of wonderful realism. Whilst not a great deal happened in terms of plot, the story and its participants contribute to a multilayered and rather deep book.
Emily Crow
A Summer Bird-Cage is evidence that an author can make a novel work for me even when I find the two main characters, an insufferable pair of sisters named Sarah and Louise, neither likable nor interesting. Both are pretty and clever, recent graduates of Oxford who don't know what to do with their lives. Louise marries a snotty, rich author and Sarah moves to London and works as a file clerk while deciding what to do. Actually, the main theme of this story, of being "over-educated but without any ...more
Jenny Yates
Aug 03, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: england, sisters
This is Drabble’s first novel, written in the 60s, and she’s already a commanding writer. This one is narrated by Sarah, a British woman in her early 20s, with a fresh degree from Oxford in hand, who simply does not know what to do with herself. She knows a few things she doesn’t like (such as trains), a few things she likes (channel crossings, cars), and what everybody else thinks about everything. But she has no sense of the shape her own life might take now.

Complicating things is the fact th
Feb 22, 2010 marked it as to-read
One sister older, glamourous & cold; younger home from Paris to be in wedding Choices women make
Alex Ankarr
Jun 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: literary-fiction
Just tolerable.
Daniel Polansky
I read this book.
Apr 29, 2011 rated it liked it
I am not sure whether I like this book or not. It has a very thin plot and you never really build any empathy with any of the characters. Maybe if I had read it at 24, things might have been different (I had read it at 19 but don't remember what I thought about it then). It is very much a feminist novel of England in 1960s. There is a bleak pessimism towards marriage, domesticity, child-bearing, even love that runs through out this short novel.
The protagonist, Sarah, a young, middle-class, Oxfo
Tipsy Lit
Apr 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Perhaps the rare and simple pleasure of being seen for what one is, compensates for the misery of being it.

- Margaret Drabble, A Summer Birdcage

A Summer Birdcage was published in 1963 by a 24 year-old Margaret Drabble about things that would concern a 24 year-old middle-class woman. Accordingly, the story is written in first person, drawing the reader into the protagonist’s mind as she explores the psychology of relationships, love, marriage, children and life purpose. The sixties is not a decad
Mar 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A Summer Bird-Cage is my 4th Drabble book (after The Millstone, Radiant Way, and Seven Sisters). It is a story about 2 sisters, their relationships and marriage. I really enjoy Drabble's early books such as The Millstone. It is witty, honest, thoughtful, well-prosed and quite philosophical. There is humanity, self-awareness and conscience in this book. Very interesting analysis on the older sister's behaviour, seen by the younger one. Some conversations are a bit too complex for me and perhaps i ...more
May 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"To force a unity from a quarrel, a high continuum from a sequence of defeats and petty disasters, to live on the level of the heart rather than the level of the slipping petticoat, this is what we spend our life on, and this is what wears us out. My attitude to the petticoat is firmer than hers, but I am exhausted nevertheless."

One of the most comforting and quotable paragraphs I've read in a long time. I am exhausted indeed, just like Sarah, just like Louise (whom I may unfortunately have much
Joanne Craig
Aug 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
I had to think about whether I liked this or not. In the end I decided it was well worth the read. It explores the institution of relationships and the personality types that we can be. At times I felt the novel was highly exclusive and pretentious. The story is not compelling but you feel the need to get to the end and consider, which I did. This is more of a literary read and one that needs thinking about further rather than entertainment. I did not feel I was entertained in this novel. I woul ...more
Feb 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
In 1962 it was a big deal to be a girl graduate from Oxford University, and Margaret Drabble was very aware of it. This is a hilarious novel of astonishing insight, filled with some remarkable passages of self-analysis by the "author". Cannabis is mentioned, as though it was just about to be legalized (which we all thought it was, ha!). Sex features as well, amusingly handled by Drabble. The edition I have, from 1972, astonishingly features the author's photograph outside some drab little row-ho ...more
Sep 28, 2008 rated it liked it
Margaret Drabble's wit and brains are surely stimulating and entertaining. But this book is a downer, about neurotic and half-formed middle-class Brits who talk trash about each other all day long (with virtual strangers) and spend inordinate amounts of energy keeping each other at arm's length (including siblings). She was only 23 when she wrote it so we have to forgive her. I have a soft spot for those "London bedsit" scenes, but you can get those in Barbara Pym or Agatha Christie, without fee ...more
Gary Willmott
Nov 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
An enjoyable if slight book and the first book I've read by Margaret Drabble - her first book.
Slightly difficult to feel any great sympathy for, or empathise with, either of the two main protagonists and the style of writing seems very much rooted in a different, earlier period (this was published in 1962 and set around the same time). It struck me as quite similar in the tone of the language to Jane Austen.
The story though, such as it is, does enough to compel you through the book and to find o
Aug 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Picked this up in a bookshop in Paris knowing nothing about the writer or the plot. The first surprise was that the novel was set in the 60s, which I didn't realize until I was a chapter in (it turns out that coming down from Oxford as a woman fifty years go uncomfortably resembles coming down today, not in all respects but in many). The second surprise was realizing that Drabble is A. S. Byatt's sister and that the book's Louise is a version of Byatt. It's an enjoyable and very quick read, but ...more
Jan 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes contemporary fiction
Recommended to Mary by: Bookmooch
Sarah has come to be a bridesmaid in her older sister's summer wedding. This is the story of Sarah and Louise's rocky adult relationship; told from Sarah's perspective as she comes to terms with her sister's new marriage. Sarah had idolized her sister as a child, and goes through a year of self-discovery as she finds her new place in the relationship with Louise. I liked this story, although it did drag in parts. I give it an A! ...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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