After the relative contentment of the ending of The Realms of Gold, The Ice Age is like a cold shower. The later work begins the series of late novels in which Drabble adopts what critics have called a sociological approach in her fiction. These novels are concerned with the economic and social events in England during the years between 1973 and 1990, years in which a depression was followed by a period of recovery in some parts of the economy, fueled by the exploitation of North Sea oil. There is some justice in the critical complaint that Drabble became less interested in her characters than in how she could use the novel to address the current state of British affairs.
The structure of The Ice Age is unusual. As she often does, Drabble dispenses with chapter divisions, but this novel is divided into three parts; the first two move among five major characters and several minor ones. The final section focuses on only one of these characters. At the end, strong religious overtones are introduced, but it is unclear how seriously Drabble intends the religious motif to be taken.
Anthony Keating is at the center of attention and in the final section becomes the only important character. He is one of a group of middle-aged men and women whose lives have been disrupted by financial and social upheavals. Anthony became involved in real estate speculation after finding several other careers boring. For a while, he and his partners were surprisingly successful, but an economic slump has hit them hard. Anthony has had a mild heart attack and is trying to recover, while wondering whether he is about to become bankrupt. His friend Max Friedmann has been killed by a bomb thrown into a London restaurant by the IRA (Irish Republican Army); Max’s wife Kitty lost a foot in the incident and is trying to pretend that nothing bad happened. Anthony’s lover, Alison Murray, is a onetime star actress who left the stage to look after her second daughter, Molly, born with cerebral palsy and somewhat...
(The entire section is 830 words.)