The Sea Lady

Paperback | April 14, 2008

byMargaret Drabble

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Humphrey Clark and Ailsa Kelman spent a summer together as children in Ornemouth, a town by the gray North Sea. Now, as they journey back toreceive honorary degrees from a new university thereHumphrey on the train, Ailsa flyingthey take stock of their lives, their careers, and their shared personal entanglements, romantic and otherwise. Humphrey is a successful marine biologist, happiest under water, but now retired; Ailsa, scholar and feminist, is celebrated for her pioneering studies of gender. Their mutual pasts unfold in an exquisite portrait of English social life in thelatter half of the twentieth century.

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Humphrey Clark and Ailsa Kelman spent a summer together as children in Ornemouth, a town by the gray North Sea. Now, as they journey back toreceive honorary degrees from a new university thereHumphrey on the train, Ailsa flyingthey take stock of their lives, their careers, and their shared personal entanglements, romantic and otherwise...

Margaret Drabble was born in Sheffield, England, in 1939 and studied English at Cambridge University. She is the author of many novels including THE SEA LADY, THE PEPPERED MOTH, THE SEVEN SISTERS, and THE NEEDLE'S EYE.  She has written biographies and studies of Thomas Hardy, William Wordsworth, and Arnold Bennett, and she is he editor...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:368 pages, 8 × 5.31 × 1.1 inPublished:April 14, 2008Publisher:Houghton Mifflin HarcourtLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0156034263

ISBN - 13:9780156034265

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The PresentationThe winning book was about fish, and to present it, she appeared to have dressed herself as a mermaid, in silver sequinned scales. Her bodice was close-fitting, and the metallic skirt clung to her solid hips before it flared out below the knees, concealing what might once have been her tail. Her bared brown shoulders and womanly bosom rose powerfully, as she drew in her breath and gazed across the heads of the seated diners at the distant autocue. She gleamed and rippled with smooth muscle, like a fish. She was boldly dressed, for a woman in her sixties, but she came of a bold generation, and she seemed confident that the shadowy shoals of her cohort were gathered around her in massed support as she flaunted herself upon the podium. She felt the dominion. It pumped through her, filling her with the adrenalin of exposure. She was ready for her leap.The silver dress must have been a happy accident, for until a few hours earlier in the day nobody knew which book had carried off the trophy. The five judges had met for their final deliberations over a sandwich lunch in a dark anachronistic wood-panelled room off an ill-lit nineteenth-century corridor. The result of their conclave was about to be announced. Most of the guests, including the authors, were as yet ignorant of the judges choice.Ailsa Kelmans wardrobe could hardly have been extensive enough to accommodate all six of the works upon the shortlist, a list which included topics such as genetically modified crops, foetal sentience and eubacteria: subjects which did not easily suggest an elegant theme for a couturier. Would it be suspected that she, as chair of the judges for the shortlist, had favoured a winner to match her sequinned gown, and had pressed for its triumph? Surely not. For although she was derided in sections of the press as an ardent self-publicist, she was also known to be incorruptible. The sea-green, silvery, incorruptible Ailsa. And her fellow-judges were not of a calibre to submit to bullying or to manipulation.The venue of the dinner might also shortly be observed to be something of a happy accident. The diners were seated at elegantly laid little round tables beneath a large grey-blue fibreglass model of a manta ray, which hung suspended above them like a primeval spaceship or an ultra-modern mass-people-carrier. They could look nervously up at its grey-white underbelly, at its wide wings, at its long whip-like tail, as though they were dining on the ocean floor. Like the costume of Ailsa Kelman, this matching of winner and venue could not have been planned. The museum was a suitable venue for a prize for a general science book with a vaguely defined ecological or environmental message, but the diners could as easily have been seated in some other hall of the huge yellow-and-blue-brick Victorian necropolis, surrounded by ferns or beetles or minerals or the poignant bones of dinosaurs. The dominant theme of fish had prevailed by chance.The programme was

Editorial Reviews

The bold latest from by the ever-inventive Drabble (The Red Queen, etc.) tells the tale of two aging academics-Ailsa Kelman, flamboyant feminist activist and TV talking head, and marine biologist Humphrey Clark-who are traveling separately to the North Sea coastal town of Ornemouth: she's presenting a book award that he, unknowingly, will receive. The two met at Ornemouth as children one summer toward the end of WWII; they lost track of one another and haven't seen each other since their brief, disastrous marriage in 1960s London. A cocky narrator reveals the charged memories, of childhood and beyond, that the trip triggers for both-and occasionally breaks free to fill in narrative gaps and pose destiny-altering scenarios. Neither is content: Humphrey is lonely and dissatisfied by his scholarship's mere competence; Ailsa, twice divorced, is uncertain if she's a success or a caricature of success (her cervix has been on TV). Secondaries include red-headed local boy Sandy Clegg, and Ailsa's rich, unscrupulous brother Tommy, in thick with the royals. Nothing as simple as a love story, this prismatic novel shines as a faceted portrait of England's changing mores, as an ode on childhood's joys and injustices, and a primer for marine biology, complete with hermaphrodite crayfish and fossils of sea lilies. Seductive as the tides, it pulls the reader in.