Margaret Drabble’s masterful eighth novel opens with a fatal heart attack. From there it proceeds to chronicle the random disasters that beset today’s English: bombings, assassinations, economic instability, and personal turmoil of every kind. England is caught in the cold grip of social change. The leisurely old order is dead, but its echoes linger on; the new order is not yet born, but its precursors are responsible for much of the present mess.
Drabble’s acknowledged talent for piquant social realism reaches over an enormous range of personalities as well as events. Among the bewildered inhabitants of her all-too-familiar world are Anthony Keating and Alison Murray, “two perfectly unambitious, ordinary, middle-of-the-road people.” Armed with generosity, intelligence, and resilience, they try to make their way through the minefield of modern life. Anthony has abandoned television production for the exhilarating gamble of property development, although ill health and financial catastrophe threaten to defeat him. His lover, Alison, is struggling to meet the conflicting demands of two difficult children while maintaining a life of her own—an effort that seems doomed to failure.
But fate is not always unkind, and Anthony and Alison and their friends— a pleasantly various group of “average” people—benefit from unexpected moments of peace, beauty, love, even good luck, which bolster their attempts to exercise some freedom of will.
The Ice Age fairly glistens with vitality, and is full of gentle humor, disturbingly accurate questions about the ways in which we live, and a multitude of small pleasures. One of the most enjoyable of Drabble’s subtle innovations in this book is the absence of strife between both the sexes and the classes. Perhaps in this alone she is right to presage a more just and benevolent order to follow our shared ice age.
—E. S. Duvall