The Radiant Way

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

If posterity were to show interest in what people in England during the 1980’s were thinking about, THE RADIANT WAY would serve as an informative guide. Margaret Drabble’s tenth novel is large in scope, full of deep understanding, sane, honest, and uncompromising, but with a quiet compassion never far beneath the surface. With a skillful and varied narrative technique, and in dialogue which rarely strikes a false note, she anatomizes both the earthquakes and the trivia in people’s lives--from the traumas of death and divorce to the day-to-day tittle-tattle.

The title is ironic. Although the characters make their way in life, adapting, compromising, making the best of things, there is no radiance. Nor is there a “way,” in the sense of a path toward a goal clearly discerned. These characters do not bravely shape their destinies; they are too busy simply reacting to the daily hodgepodge of events.

Yet the end of the novel hints at transcendence; it half discloses a radiance that up to that point has been hidden. After some dark and incomprehensible events, the setting switches to open countryside as the three protagonists make their way home along a footpath. Momentarily still and rapt with silent attention, they feel themselves surrounded by the eternal presences of nature. The setting sun, which stains the earth the color of blood, seems to suggest a sympathy with the struggle of human life and at the same time to point the way beyond...

(The entire section is 499 words.)