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A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman: Complete Short Stories

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  785 ratings  ·  152 reviews
Margaret Drabble’s novels have illuminated the past fifty years, especially the changing lives of women, like no others. Yet her short fiction has its own unique brilliance. Her penetrating evocations of character and place, her wide-ranging curiosity, her sense of irony—all are on display here, in stories that explore marriage, female friendships, the English tourist abro ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published May 18th 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2011)
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Jan 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
I’m a Drabble fan and these stories didn’t let me down. They are mostly set in the English countryside beginning from the ‘70’s to the turn of the century. They are quiet and unassuming. Something in Drabble's style reminds me of Barbara Pym’s writing. I felt like I was sitting in a sunny back porch with a cup of tea alternately reading and talking to a long time friend. The stories are each marked with the date they were written and they’re set out in chronological order which enabled me to wat ...more
Jul 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I thoroughly enjoyed these stories. I love the way Drabble writes - she is able to put into words small subconscious thoughts and feelings. The first line of the first story in the collection is what made me take a second look at the book: "It was the kind of party at which nobody got introduced."

But my favorite stories were "A Voyage to Cythera" and the title story "A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman." I thought both were quietly beautiful and spoke to some deep melancholy (or maybe pain?) in
Mar 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
"So I brought some magic back with me, and it will keep me through the winter". How can anybody resist a book of short stories with flawed and human characters and intensity of experience? Beautifully written. ...more
Bonnie Brody
Feb 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Margaret Drabble is a well-known English novelist. I have read several of her books and have always enjoyed them. I had no idea that she was also a writer of short stories. A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman: Complete Short Stories is the first compilation of her stories that has ever been published. They are presented in chronological order beginning in 1964 and ending in 2000. Like her novels, these stories often deal with the plight of women in their times, the socio-cultural aspects of mar ...more
Oct 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
I am the first to admit that I'm not a huge fan of the short story form, probably because I'm such a lousy short story writer. That said, this is a wonderful book for folks like me. Each story (collected from Drabble's ouevre from 1964 to 2000 and in chronological order) is a precise and whole story. Not like today's metafiction wherein things are often left unresolved and hanging, Drabble pinpoints the essence of her characters and gives us a window into their lives at the moment they are being ...more
I'd read Margaret Drabble's literary criticism but not her fiction before picking up this slim volume. She has such precise, crisp, and lucid prose.

Her earlier stories are so finely polished that they're almost brittle. With their mannered characters and London scenes they could be from another era--the 1930s as easily as the late 1960s.

Her later works moved me more. Whether as narrator or protagonist, women and their experiences are at the center of Drabble's stories. Grounded in the specific
Brianna Rabe
Dec 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
Honestly, I saw this on a bookshelf and a corner bookstore (aren't those fabulous?) and was drawn to the title and the cover. (I find myself often juding a book by its cover, although we are taught from an early age the dangers of such judgement.) As I have mentioned before, and will mention again, I'm a fan of short stories and vignettes, often drawn into the idea of getting to know a character well and quickly and feeling a story progress despite a chronological narrative. The story begins fro ...more
Laura K. Warrell
Jul 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite-books
Such a find! The earlier stories are most intriguing; the darker plot twists, the sexy and dangerous inner dramas of the characters. I do like the authorial interventions in the later stories; for some reason I've always enjoyed hearing the author as I read and Drabble does this subtly and beautifully. "A Voyage to Cythera" may be my favorite though the quite short "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" is fun, too. I also love this quote from Drabble, "I'd rather be at the end of a dying tradition, which I ...more
May 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
These short stories were food to my soul. So beautifully written she has a true gift for languAge and use of words. I kept re-reading certain sentences just because I loved how the words rolled off my lips.
May 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is my second foray into the short story genre this year, as my last book was a collection of Alice Munro's stories - and very good they were too. I'm giving this collection four stars as well, being generous for personal reasons.

There was so much recognisable in these stories that I warmed to them immediately on a level which wouldn't exist for everyone. Even the names of the magazines in which the first few were published gave me a little frisson of nostalgia - 'Nova' 'Spare Rib' - what h
Apr 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
drabble is the OG of young wo/men mixing it up on the mean streets of love. very mannered, touching almost in their innuendo, stories of uk relationships in '60's (but continues on with a braver, more liberated sense through 2000) where most everything either ends in decay, or is so rotten and putrid you can actually watch the bitterness happen over the morning toast and butter melting. lots of authors have kept to the theme (and could learn a thing or two from margaret drabble) like lorrie moor ...more
May 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Well what did I think? This is a book of melancholy stories by a writer who has lived most of her life with bouts of depression. It is a book of stories about women at the various stages of their lives experiencing small moments of connection or illumination. Strangely for the most part I found the men much more engaging. Also it I'd a book by a middle class academic woman about middle class academic women who are interested in lichen and Wordsworth and wandering about in the West Country. I rea ...more
Apr 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
These stories are arranged in chronological order, and grow in strength and depth as they do. The title story in particular will stay with me for a long time. If the early stories seem a bit obsessive about adultery (not something I'd remembered being a huge theme for Drabble before), the later stories are deeply felt depictions of the pain and desperation, but also strength, of women, smiling and otherwise. A worthy side dish to the great main courses that are Drabble's novels. ...more
Will Ansbacher
Aug 29, 2011 rated it liked it
Most of these are really good. They are also really short, and although she is so good at developing character in a very few pages, and each story is complete on its own, still they are so short I wanted more. I liked the earlier ones the most, her later stories started to feel a bit forced and artful.
Mar 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Lucky me for receiving this as a GoodReads First Reads giveaway. Otherwise, I may have gone my entire reading life without discovering Margaret Drabble.

Three of the stories, in particular, stood out for me: "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" (one man's attempts at getting noticed at "a party where no one gets introduced"), "Hassan’s Tower" (a honeymooning couple realizes some at times uncomfortable truths about themselves), and the title story (a woman's determination to smile through life's difficultie
Sep 25, 2011 rated it it was ok
This is very English in tone and while her writing is exquisitely beautiful and evocative, these stories are exceedingly melancholy and a little boring. No great insights, just rather rambling along. Also 2/3 of the stories are from the late 1960s and 1970s. Even when they were more recent they still had the same feel.
I was rather anxious to end it, never a good sign.
I feel I missed it's special value however, as if I should have lingered and read only one a day, or night rather than rush thro
For Books' Sake
Aug 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Drabble adds a warm, wry sheen of glamour to life’s normalcies simple by drawing our attention to them and this collection will hopefully help her to become accessible to a whole new generation of readers." (Excerpt from full review of A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman at For Books' Sake) ...more
Aug 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Gabrielle by: NPR
This is the first time I've managed to read a book of short stories all the way through, and I'm really glad I did. Reading these stories felt like glimpsing into different living room windows. This collection is especially fascinating due to the passage of time - the stories are in chronological order and span 4 decades. Highly recommended. ...more
Jul 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

"A fastidious chronicler of the vagaries of women's lives in England since the early nineteen-sixties".

If you have never read Margaret Drabble this is a good place to start. The stories are very good two in particular 'The Gifts of War' and 'A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman' will stay with me for quite a while. A good read.
Prior to spotting this book on Goodreads First Reads and entering into the giveaway that I eventually won, I had never heard of Margaret Drabble. That is a real shame, because she has such a collection of vivid short stories that are easy to relate to on a human level. I would have loved to read her work in my British literature courses when I was just starting out in my major. Sadly, I was only introduced to her writing this year.

Each story sets about examining a particular person. There are a
Martina B..
May 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"... their antagonism, so basic, so predictable, had found time to flower and blossom, and their honeymoon had been little more than a deliberate cultivation of its ominous growth. He had hoped that in leaving England they would have left behind some of their more evident differences, differences that should be of no importance in a foreign setting, but instead they have found themselves steadily isolated in a world of true British conflict, where his ways and hers had become monstrously exagger ...more
Jun 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
I wasn't familiar with Drabble's works before now. These are all written with a female slant and not much happens, but I give credit to a writer who can take a situation with not much happening and create a not only an atmosphere, but a whole story. It's the same when someone says, I don't have anything to eat and they order a pizza and another person can whip up a cheese omelette with toast and jam and salad all with bits and pieces.

The sad thing is, I think of the cartoon strip The Drabbles w
Amy Tunstall
Aug 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016-favourites
A passing recommendation from a friend to read Jerusalem the Golden, which I duly added to a list of books to get to, led me to notice Drabble's name on of an Oxfam bookshop shelf and pick this up. As I am a short story writer, and lover, I saw this collection and thought it must be fate. I'm inclined to think it was. In this collection of thirteen tales I was reminded of everything I love about short stories, and reminded of why I write. It is the celebration of 'ordinary' women, an insistence ...more
Jan 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
Honestly I found most of the stories rather boring. There were a few that I found quite insightful, including the one for which the collection is named after: A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman, and The Merry Widow. The first ends with a sad but powerful metaphor of the things women do to please everyone around them while ignoring her own self and pleasure. The second was a metaphor of how we sometimes get so angry that things don't go as planned, that we make situations far worse than they re ...more
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
I admire Margaret Drabble's writing, and the Englishness of her stories. These stories written between 1964 and 2000. I can't remember which novel I read first sometime in the early 70's. As I read more, but not all (yet), it seemed to me that she seemed to express so much of what I felt about my age and the time I was in. Sometimes I hadn't realized that, yes, that is it exactly, until I read the book. These stories had that same effect. ...more
Mar 16, 2013 rated it liked it
Best lines:
Like many romantics, they habitually connived with fate by remembering the names of restaurants and the streets they had once walked along as lovers. Those who forget forgot, he said to her later, and those who do not forget will meet again.
Paul Taylor
Dec 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
A series of thirteen gentle tales (surely biographical to some degree) reflecting on gender, age, art and a desire for solitude and time to reflect on what has been and what may be left to come.
Jan 12, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I guess it's hard to be 100% consistent with a short story collection, but "Faithful Lovers", "The Gifts of War", and the title story were all really great. ...more
Aug 27, 2011 rated it liked it
An edited version of this article was first published as Book Review: A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman by Margaret Drabble on

I don't have plenty of good experiences when it comes to short stories. I suppose the reason behind this is that I have a set of expectations when it comes to reading, and short stories are just the wrong genre to fulfill it. The last time I have read a collection of short stories was when I picked up The Insufferable Gaucho by Roberto Bolaño, and
Mar 16, 2015 rated it liked it
I enjoy a short story collection that I can dip into and this was no exception. On the other hand, I rarely find that I remember short stories after I have finished them though there are usually two or three stories that have a greater impact than others. Such stories in this collection, for me, were A Voyage to Cythera (where a stranger asks a woman to post a letter for him, leading to an unexpected conclusion), The Merry Widow (where Elsa delights in her new found freedom until the intrusion o ...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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