Humphrey is an eminent biologist; Ailsa a media figure famous for (among other things) her outspoken feminist views. Both are on their way to Ornemouth to receive honorary degrees. Humphrey and Ailsa met as children on holiday, and so the journey back there reminds them of that time, as well as the intervening years, when their paths did cross again.
I bought this book from the bookshop after I finished reading The Radiant Way because I was so impressed with that and I wanted to feel I was encouraging Margaret Drabble (and read another of her books). I read it after finishing Family Album by Penelope Lively because that reminded me I had this on my bookshelf.
Although I associate the two authors in my mind, I think Drabble is probably more like Elizabeth Jane Howard - her characters are a bit more complex and interesting than Lively's. But this was just as readable as Family Album. Both novels jump forward and backward in time, I've just realised, although in this book there are fewer characters (it's nearly all told from the point of view of either Humphrey or Ailsa) and so there's a lot more time to focus on how their feelings and attitudes have changed over the years. Actually there is another point of view: that of the "public orator", who seems to be the author herself, commenting on the structure of the plot. But this becomes a little more ambigious towards the end.
I thought the descriptions of the holidays were very effective; well, the descriptions of what it felt like to be a child as well: the sometimes baffling logic of grown-up behaviour, the importance of having a best friend, and the worry of having your best friend palling up with someone else. And the love affairs later on were very well done too.
Anyway, great read.
Completed : 2-Jun-2013